Every weekday this summer, 10 students from different departments at UC Davis have come together in the university’s Genome Center to work on what they hope will one day be the answer to cleaning up the world’s landfills.
These students are members are of the UC Davis International Genetically Engineered Machine, or iGEM, team, and they have been working together since before the summer break started to create a project worthy of the world’s premiere collegiate synthetic biology competition.
The premise of the competition, which began in 2003 at MIT, is simple: Student teams across the world receive a kit of biology parts from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. They then have the summer to work with fellow undergraduates to create a biological system that includes those given parts and any new parts of the students’ own design. The finished product is supposed to operate in a living cell.
According to the official iGEM website, the entire competition is centered on answering one question: “Can simple biological systems be built from standard, interchangeable parts and operated in living cells? Or is biology so complicated that every case is unique?”
This UC Davis team is tackling the problem of plastic pollution and is working to create a bacteria that can biodegrade polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a commonly used plastic that’s in such items as soda bottles and food trays.