Press Release

Day: 23 November 2020

Students from Brno have won gold at the iGEM competition with their solution for cleaning water from blue-green algae


A team of students from the Masaryk University and Brno University of Technology called Generation Mendel has won gold medal and was nominated for Best Environment Project at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) global competition. Students from FIT, twins Petr and Pavel Kohout and Gabriela Chmelařová as an advisor, are also part of the winning team who came up with the design for a solution for cleaning water from blue-green algae.

Their project succeeded among international competition of nearly 250 teams and almost five thousand competitors from 36 countries all over the world. The organisers published the results of the competition, which were decided by 304 members of a jury from all over the world, on Sunday 22 November. "We are so happy to have succeeded and we are glad we participated. Winning a gold medal assured us that our works is going in the right direction and it also supported our idea of creating a functional marketable product," says Petr Kohout.

He and his brother got into the project through their friend who, at that time, was finishing research for her Bachelor's thesis at the Loschmidt Laboratories where they are currently both working on their diploma theses.

They were tasked with all technical aspects of the project, from creating a website to working on a water filtering device. "Over this summer, we focused on designing the device and its model along with creating a basic simulation. Next year, we will focus on creating a more detailed fluid simulation and simulation of our target proteins and their mutations in order to increase effectiveness. Our plan for the next global jamboree, which will be held in Paris this time, is to present a functional prototype with supporting software. Within the scope of the competition, we have also participated in development of the iGEM community by creating an internal search tool," explains Pavel Kohout.

The team's motivation was to work on something that would be of interest to people from around Brno but would also be relevant on a global scale. "We got an idea about how Brno dam struggles with blue-green algae. In order to effectively remove blue-green algae from water, we must remove their cells, but also their toxins. So, we started developing a system based on cells of Bacillus subtillis, soil bacteria," notes Barbora Hrnčířová from the Faculty of Science of the Masaryk University.

In order for the bacteria to serve the given purpose, they must be modified using methods of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology makes use of combining various genetic components to functional units with new or better properties than those naturally occurring. "We modified our cells with a protein scaffolding on their surface; this scaffolding will then be used for attaching enzymes which will destroy blue-green algae cells and their toxins," student specifies.


However, in order to succeed in the iGEM competition, the team not only had to come up with a solution of the issue itself, but also to finish a number of additional tasks, such as creating a scientific poster, a wiki-like website, making a short 2-minute video introducing the project and also a long, 20-minute video which replaced presentation before the jury in Boston due to the ongoing pandemic. Apart from all this, students also had to think about future implementation of the entire research. In order to gain high-quality input data, they communicated with many experts as well as the public and they co-operated with other teams from all over the world.

To win gold medal, the team also had to tackle issues which, at first glance, may not seem to be related to synthetic biology. Generace Mendel focused on operation and creation of a student's association and the related issues of securing finances and bookkeeping. The group also intensively participated in educating the public, be it through creation of scientific materials for senior-citizen centres and children's homes or through creation of infographics related to the topic at hand. You can find more information about the project for example on their website, Facebook profile, Instagram profile, or in this older article.

Author: Kozubová Hana, Mgr.

Last modified: 2021-02-02T16:38:56

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