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Innovations in microplate reader technology
iGEM and Synthetic Biology16 Sep 2015
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The field of synthetic biology is wide ranging and one that features fantastic collaborations between biologists, chemists, computer engineers and more. The field spans that region between research and technological application that can often be something of a bottleneck. The field as a whole is attracting a great deal of attention and many foresee a bright future.

With that future in mind, the iGEM competition (originating at MIT) seeks to develop the skills of undergraduates and postgraduates by providing them with a standard set of tools with which to create a biological machine and then letting them loose to see what they can come up with. The competition aims to determine whether a standard set of biological ‘building bricks’ can be developed that can be used to solve a wide range of real world problems.

Bioremediation is a common stated purpose of many iGEM projects. The use of microorganisms to isolate and breakdown pollutants is one that has clear benefits. Many waterways and soils contaminated with heavy metals can be difficult to recover by standard means. The construction of synthetic biological systems offers a potential new approach to this.

This is what the team at York University, led by Dr Gavin Thomas, did with their E.Coli system. These cells have been engineered with genes to isolate cadmium from contaminated water. They have used BMG LABTECH readers to characterize the genes and analyse the levels of expression in their adapted cells. This formed the basis of their entry to the 2014 iGEM Competition.

The instrument was located in the lab of Dr. Gavin Thomas in the Department of Biology. "The loan of the BMG LABTECH reader was really great for the students & enabled them to quickly test one of their key parts in a short period of time at the end of the project," said Dr. Thomas.

The maintenance of soil quality is of vital importance to farmers worldwide. Recent work with using charcoal as a soil amendment (biochar) indicates that it can reduce the activity of microbes in the soil, therefore slowing the use of carbon by bacteria and leaving it for the crops.

See also: Fluometric determination of extracellular enzyme activities in peat

BMG LABTECH is supporting two teams at iGEM 2015 from the University of Exeter and the University of Freiburg.

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