iGEM Photo for UCLan

University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) economics student Matthew Birt, with other UK undergraduates, has bagged two Best Human Practices Advance awards at the prestigious iGEM competition – one in Europe and one in the world championship in the US.

Students presented the project based around creating a synthetic palm oil by modifying a harmless strain of E.coli to a panel of judges at International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in France. They not only received an award but also an invitation to compete in the world championship in Boston.

The UCLan student was funded by the University to go to the States and help his team present the project to the judges who included high-profile MIT professors and even a delegate from the United Nations. The team competed with 73 other biology groups to scoop their second award.

Matthew said: “The economic principles which I have learnt as part of my degree were really helpful in creating a Human Practices project which was distinct from the other teams, as they were unlikely to have had an economics student on their team.“

Matthew got involved with iGEM when his sister, who was already a member of the team, put his name forward to help with the project.

He shared: “All the members of the team were from a science background including my sister, who studies biochemistry. As time went on they realised that the Human Practices element of the project had more to do with economics than with biology or chemistry and my sister, knowing what I was studying, suggested that I was just what the team needed.”

The iGEM competition is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition. Student teams are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Working at their own schools over the summer, they use these parts and new parts of their own design to build biological systems and operate them in living cells.

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