ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology


16, Nov 2023

The Heavy Metals band

The Australian National University node has just returned from Paris where they competed in the 20th iGEM Jamboree, a global synthetic biology competition. 

‘iGEM is the beating heart of the growing global synthetic biology community,’ says Jack Dalton, who organised sponsorship from the Centre to help with costs.’ 

‘iGEM teams have founded over 400 start-ups and it is widely recognised as the proving ground for upcoming leaders in the field. 

The ANU team chose to focus on the problem of heavy metal pollution, an issue particularly pressing in Australia due to the waste left behind by mining and agricultural operations. This aligns strongly with iGEM’s goals of “Local people solving local problems”.  

Heavy metals: A global danger

Our platform was designed to bind to and sequester heavy metal ions such as arsenic inside protein nanocages inside bacterial cells. This effectively removes them from the environment preventing them from entering waterways and the food system,’ says Jack. 

‘Presentation of our project at the Jamboree sparked a lot of interesting conversations with bio-mining start-ups that were interested in our platform and other teams working on similar problems.  

‘It was exciting to see the progress being made in environmental bioremediation, one project from Aachen University was using engineered fungi to recycle rare earth metals from e-waste, reducing our reliance on new mines. 

‘The Jamboree was a very collaborative and international event.  The sheer number of Chinese universities and even high schools and the standard of engineering excellence was truly amazing!  

The ANU team met up with the team from McGill university in Canada which it had collaborated with on Biome, a protein art book to promote SynBio.  McGill’s project; Proteus, went on to win the best overall project. 

‘The standard of engineering, design, human practice and outreach demonstrated by the top teams was awe-inspiring and the projects looked like they had been developed by large companies! It definitely set the bar high and gives the ANU team something to aim for in the future.