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Creating a Collaborative Community: Pitt iGEM Teammates Help Local High School Students Participate in This Year’s Giant Jamboree

PITTSBURGH (April 24, 2018) … The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation hosts an annual synthetic biology research-focused competition that continues to draw a multidisciplinary group of University of Pittsburgh students. Participants spend the summer creating and implementing a research project, and the experience culminates at the Giant Jamboree in Boston where the students showcase their work. For the first time, high school students from the Pittsburgh region will compete in this international competition.

Vivian Hu, a sophomore bioengineering student in the Swanson School of Engineering, and Dorsin Chang, a senior molecular biology student at Pitt, competed in iGEM 2017 with a project focused on controlling E. coli movement with light and won a silver medal at the Giant Jamboree. Riding off their positive experience with the competition, Hu and Chang proactively got involved with the Citizen Science Lab (CSL) and began weekly visits to assist the high school iGEM team formed there. 

“iGEM is a great resource to expose students to research and kindle their interests in the STEM fields,” said Hu. “Through this program, I gained valuable research experience in lab techniques, project design, and experiment planning. It is a great opportunity to collaborate with other students, and I wanted to help the high schoolers have their own rewarding experience.”

“We have been helping the students formulate their project by sharing tips and getting them to engage in discussions about research articles or other information they find,” said Hu. “As they move on to more wet lab experiments, we assist them with calculations, making buffers or reagents, and carrying out experiments.”

Collaborations are a strong theme in iGEM. Cheryl Telmer, a research biologist at Carnegie Mellon University, has been involved with various iGEM teams at Pitt, CMU, CMU Qatar, and the CSL since 2013. She has been working with Pitt’s 2017 iGEM team to advise the new high school group. 

“Alan Seadler and Andre Samuel formed the high school iGEM team, and because of my experience with the competition, they approached me to help,” said Telmer. Dr. Seadler is Chair of Biotechnology at Duquesne University, and Dr. Samuel is director of the Citizen Science Lab. “It is great to see this competition continue to expand in our region, and it has been a joy to watch undergraduates like Vivian and Dorsin contribute to this growth.”

The high school team is finalizing their project idea and plans to focus on producing energy-on-demand using a coculture of two different bacteria, one engineered to feed the other.  One of the requirements for a silver medal at the Giant Jamboree is collaboration with another team so Telmer facilitated a partnership with the 2017 CMUQ iGEM team to have the CSL group characterize their salt sensor. The high schoolers will continue work on this project with the goal of participating in the 2018 Giant Jamboree from October 25-28.


Contact: Leah Russell