In 2015, Ryerson’s Faculty of Science hosted the inaugural Chemistry and Biology (CaB) Undergraduate Research Challenge, an interdisciplinary case competition that provides science students the opportunity to propose innovative solutions to real, research-based problems faced by modern society. Last year’s competition challenged students to dive into the field of genomics (the study of the genetic information of organisms) to tackle a present Canadian natural resources issue. The winning proposal discussed using genetically modified bacteria to discuss the toxic hydrocarbons found in the tailing ponds, a result of Canada’s oil and gas industry.
This year, the focus of the CaB competition has shifted from natural resources cases to synthetic biology cases. Synthetic biology is a recently emerged field of science that involves designing new biological parts or redesigning existing biological systems to expand the limits of biotechnology and industrial processes. Synthetic biology is interdisciplinary, leveraging nanotechnology, molecular biology, genetic engineering, and many more fields. A conceptual example of synthetic biology is bacteria that have been genetically engineered to eat dead skin cells and dirt, outcompeting other bacteria for these resources. In application, these synthetically modified bacteria could be included in a facial spray, eliminating the need for the thousands of currently available skin products and preventing acne.
Teams of 3-5 students will collaborate to construct research proposals, developing skills in communication and leadership while applying what they have learned from their coursework. Each team is paired with a graduate student mentor who guides them through the finer points of proposal writing and academic presentation. The top five teams (announced March 7th) present to a panel of judges on March 19th. The winning team will be announced at the annual Science Alumni Mentoring Event.
The winning team of the 2016 CaB Undergraduate Research Challenge will be given the summer to adapt their proposal for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition, an international synthetic biology competition to be held in Boston, MA, USA at the end of October. iGEM is a non-profit organization based out of the Michigan Institute of Technology, and is dedicated to advancement of synthetic biology. The winning CaB team will have to recreate their proposal using Biobricks, a set of standard biological parts competing iGEM teams from around the world will be using to create genetically engineered systems.
Stay tuned for an introduction to our two teams who will be documenting their journey through the CaB challenge throughout the semester, from ideation to presentation. Hopefully we’ll even see one of our teams head to Boston in the fall!