Students conduct ground-breaking genetic research
Work may benefit new drug discovery; earns Team NAIT silver at international competition
Applied research carried out by NAIT students could help scientists identify proteins faster, a breakthrough that would benefit the agricultural, soil and pharmaceutical industries – to name a few – and may lead to quicker development of new pharmaceuticals. Proteins are complex molecules that play an essential part of all living organisms.
For their work, the team of six students from three programs, along with a lead researcher and lab technologist, were recognized recently with a silver medal at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Held annually in Boston, MA, the event has grown to more than 250 teams of high school, university and graduate students from around the world. There were 20 silver medals awarded to North American teams in various categories.
Team NAIT competed in the ‘new applications’ track and was grouped alongside some of the toughest teams of PhD students from prestigious universities around the world, including The Chinese University of Hong Kong, the University of Chicago and the University of Glasgow.
For its entry, Team NAIT began developing a unique colour-coding process that will streamline the process of isolating proteins, which is key to a wide range of medical and pharmaceutical research. For example, most drugs work by targeting proteins. Scientists could use this new process to identify relevant proteins faster. In addition to influencing drug discovery, the research could have an impact in many other areas including agriculture (by helping scientists identify new targets for insecticides) and soil reclamation.
The goal of the iGEM competition is to push synthetic biology – the process of creating new genes - into the realm of the never-before-seen, giving participants an extraordinary educational experience.
• The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) jamboree was held Sept. 24-28 in Boston, MA.
• Students’ knowledge of synthetic biology is put to the test as teams work for months to solve real-world challenges.
• Team NAIT hopes to develop its system into a business.
Dr. Chris Dambrowitz, associate vice president, NAIT Research and Innovation
“We’re proud of what the members of Team NAIT have accomplished through this competition. Their silver medal achievement is a clear demonstration of the ability and ingenuity of our students. They were able to compete with teams of graduates from some of the most elite universities. This is the first time NAIT has been involved in iGEM. Imagine where our students will be as we move forward with this and other initiatives.”
Dr. Marcelo Marcet-Palacios, researcher, Biological Sciences Technology instructor
“Millions of researchers worldwide use common techniques to study proteins. This discovery will help those researchers by improving identification of the proteins while also doing it faster. New drugs could be developed sooner and it could also speed up the understanding of diseases. For the students, being involved in this research is invaluable.”
Eduardo A. Reyes-Serratos, Biological Sciences Technology student, team leader
“We all came with various strengths and that’s what made our team great and helped us achieve more. This was a great opportunity to work with students from a variety of programs. It’s wasn’t just about winning a medal. This was a life-changing experience.”
View a video about Team NAIT by clicking here.
The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is a leading Canadian polytechnic, delivering education in science, technology and the environment; business; health and trades. With nearly 60,000 credit and non-credit students and a 95 per cent employer satisfaction rate, NAIT grads are essential to Alberta’s prosperity. Known for hands-on, technology-based learning, NAIT engages with business and industry in applied research and innovation and provides corporate training around the world. Recognized as one of Alberta’s top employers, NAIT provides outstanding returns on investment for its graduates, partners, the provincial government and the people of Alberta.