Special Programme in Science (SPS)

SPS-led iGEM team wins Gold medal and nomination for Best Diagnostic in iGEM Giant Jamboree 2016

Figure 1. Team NUS_Singapore. From Left to Right: Janice Darikho, Choi Yan Ru, Priyanka Kamath, Han Ziyin, Yeam Cheng Teng, Joseph Chan Man Yau, Keshiniy Madivannan, Ang Shi Hui, Wong Chi Yan and Corey Bryen Lingam.

From 27-31 October 2016, 11 undergraduate students from the Faculty of Science led by staff from the Special Programme in Science competed at the prestigious International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition held in Boston, Massachusetts. Both SPS and non-SPS students were part of this interdisciplinary team.

Team NUS_Singapore made NUS history, winning a Gold Medal in the undergraduate track when competing with nearly 300 other teams. The team was also one of four nominees (out of 27 teams) for the best Diagnostic project. This is the second time that NUS is sending a team to the iGEM Giant Jamboree, the first being Team SPSingapore in 2015.

Team NUS_Singapore developed a modular system (The RIOT system) which allowed for specific targeting of tumour cells with bacteria. The RIOT system leveraged on the Warburg effect, where cancer cells secrete an increased amount of lactate into the environment. In the first part of the RIOT system, the RIOT Sensor, engineered Escherichia coli sense relative levels of lactate biomolecules in the environment. Subsequently, the RIOT Responder allows for the recognition of cancer cells via a specific cell surface receptor. Finally, the RIOT Invader would facilitate entry of bacteria into the cell to deliver a therapeutic into the cell.

Figure 2. The RIOT system consists of three modules: the RIOT sensor, RIOT Responder and RIOT Invader, which work together to enable effective sensing and targeting of cancer cells.

Other than the biosensing components, this year’s iGEM project also had a modelling component which predicted the response of the RIOT system to lactate concentration, as well as a business plan that evaluated the market feasibility of such a bacterium as a therapeutic. This project was novel because of the modularity and flexibility of the system, as it can be adapted to customise for sensing of biomolecules other than lactate, and other cell surface markers.

Collaboration was also a strong factor in the team’s win – they collaborated with other teams overseas, including University of Melbourne, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the University of Hong Kong. This year’s team also collaborated with A/P Liou Yih-Cherng, SPS Director and PI in Department of Biological Sciences, A/P Matthew Wook Chang, PI and part of SynCTI, as well as Prof Linda J Kenney, PI at Mechanobiology Institute (MBI).

All in all, the iGEM competition was a great learning experience for the students. Ang Shi Hui (Year 3 Life Science major) said, ‘iGEM has been a very interesting experience for me, being able to go to a conference and explain our project to others, as well as listen to other really great projects and talk to other participants. I am more firmly convinced that interdisciplinary science, the core of SPS is the future of research.’

Diem Phuong Nguyen Hoang (Year 3 Life Science Major) also said, ‘Beyond the overwhelming happiness for team NUS_Singapore’s victory at iGEM 2016, I am truly inspired by the daring thoughts of young passionate scientists which are translated into actions to solve real-world issues. To me, iGEM 2016 was full of challenges and valuable learning experiences. We were not afraid of failures and dared to try new ways because we believe that our work is important. Every member was brilliant but our teamwork is what made us succeed.’

Looking forward, we hope to continue sending iGEM teams and providing this enriching education experience to students in Faculty of Science in iGEM 2017.

Figure 3. Team members Janice and Yan Ru presenting their poster to an interested conference participant at iGEM Jamboree.

Team NUS_Singapore, comprised Life Sciences’ ANG Shi Hui, CHOI Yan Ru, Corey Bryen LINGAM, HAN Ziyin, Keshiniy MADIVANNAN, NGUYEN Hoang Diem Phuong, Priyanka KAMATH, WONG Chi Yan and YEAM Cheng Teng, Pharmacy’s Janice DARIKHO and Physics’ CHAN Man Yau, Joseph.

The team was led by Dr Robert LIEU Zi Zhao, Lecturer, SPS and Department of Biological Science; Prof LIOU Yih-Cherng, SPS Director; Prof Matthew Wook CHANG, Department of Biochemistry; Dr Adison WONG, Scientific Programme Manager (Synthetic Biology programme), Department of Biochemistry; and Ms TAN Yi Han, a former SPS student and Research Assistant, Department of Biochemistry; in collaboration with Mechanobiology Institute’s Prof Linda J KENNEY and Dr Stuti Kaivalya DESAI.