Through the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, OSLI is exploring the field of synthetic biology to address challenges in oil sands extraction and reclamation.
iGEM, in association with MIT, is the world’s foremost synthetic biology competition in which students are tasked with altering biological parts and systems to address real-world challenges. OSLI sponsored eight university teams from around the world in the 2012 iGEM competition, held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in November. We sponsored five teams in the 2010 competition and eight teams in 2011.
In the iGEM competition, student teams from around the world are given biological parts from MIT’s Registry of Standard Biological Parts, a continuously growing collection of genetic parts that can be mixed and matched to build synthetic biology devices and systems. Working at their own universities, the OSLI-sponsored teams use these parts in combination with biological parts they devise to address oil sands challenges. The 2012 OSLI-sponsored teams were from the following universities: Alberta, British Columbia, Queen’s (Ontario), Cornell (New York), Calgary, Mexico, Lethbridge, and France.
OSLI sponsored projects ranged from detecting and destroying naphthenic acids in tailings ponds to regulating photosynthetic bacteria that can convert CO2 into butanol fuel. Seven of the eight OSLI-sponsored teams received a highly-coveted gold medal at their regional competitions.
Cornell and Calgary teams each displayed working prototypes of their technologies that detect contaminants in water streams and attack naphthenic acids in tailings ponds. Both teams added to their placed in the top "Sweet Sixteen" World Jamboree teams. The Calgary team also won the World Jamboree award for Best Human Practices Advance, in recognition of the creative ways it has engaged the public on synthetic biology.
In 2012, OSLI also brought together a mix of over 30 individuals from industry, academic, government and private sector experts. This group came together to further progress iGEM work and to determine both long and short term objectives for synthetic biology and petroleum microbiology. The group also developed strategies to focus research efforts on issues that are specific to the oil sands.
Moving forward, a third-party group is developing a technology roadmap. This roadmap will involve ranking products, technologies, experts and discovering options for funding the synthetic biology field.