The story

BioBricks are DNA sequences which have defined functions and can easily be transferred into the genome of living cells such as E.Coli in order to produce genetically modified organisms.

In the annual iGEM competition undergraduate teams from around the world compete to create a novel and useful organism using BioBlocks

Teaching ideas

There is more to a genetically engineered bacteria than making human insulin.

Look through the entries to the 2010 iGEM competition and you will see interesting and novel applications of the same technique.  Some examples would be suitable to share with higher ability KS4 and KS5 biology classes.

Some of the UK entries which I particularly found interesting were:

Cambridge: The team placed bioluminescent systems from fireflies and bacteria into E. coli and were able to generate bright light output in a range of different colours.  Their project was motivated by the use of the bacteria as a potential light source which could replace electric street lights.

During their project they made use of a new DNA ligation technique: Gibson assembly and their video on how this works would be an interesting way of explaining how a gene is inserted into a vector in order to transform a cell.

Bristol: Created what they have named ‘agrEcoli’ and is used to show farmers how much nitrate is in their soil.  The modified bacteria glows a different fluorescent colour depending on how much nitrate is present, allowing farmers to only add fertiliser where it is needed, saving them time and money.  You could ask students to explain why agrEcoli could also benefit the environment.

Newcastle: The team modified Bacillus bacteria which can be sprayed onto cracks in concrete buildings and help repair them.  The ‘BacillaFilla’ can produce calcium carbonate, a type of ‘glue’ and form long filaments which act in the same way as the man-made fibres added to reinforce concrete.  The combination of these three ingredients results in a hard material which is as strong as the concrete itself.

Have you come across any other novel uses of GM organisms that you use in lessons?  Please share by using the comments section below.

Weblinks:

The videos created by the Cambridge team including the Gibson assembly song

The Newcastle team wiki page

The Bristol team wiki page

The 2010 iGEM results page where you can access videos of the presentations made by the teams and their submitted posters which outline their research

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