What is iGEM?
The International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition brings together students from around the world in a global competition for teams of high school, college, and overgrad students. There are over 300 teams from 6 continents, and each team solves a real-world problem or makes a discovery by using genetic engineering. For example, our team last year engineered bacteria to produce a snake venom protein that could be used as first-aid to treat catastrophic bleeding. The year before that, they engineered bacteria to break down plastic that contaminates our Inner Harbor.
According to Mercedes Thompson, a graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic High School, “Being in iGEM has changed my perspective of the world around me. Now, I can use both my passion for science and my community to change my city and the world for the better.”
Who are the Baltimore BioCrew?
We’re a high school iGEM team based out of a community lab located in a disadvantaged area of Baltimore. Our team is made up of students from schools all over the DC-Baltimore area Although they are from different schools, our team of 18 students comes together to design a project and carry out our work at Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS), a community lab in Highlandtown, Baltimore. Every Saturday throughout the summer, we meet and collaborate to carry out the experiments to create the engineered bacteria. Our common goal is to use biology to improve the world. Meet the members of the 2019 BioCrew by visiting their Team page and clicking on their pictures!
Why is iGEM important?
Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) has been hosting iGEM teams since 2015. Each year, the team has won gold or bronze medals, and last year our team also won the award for Best Presentation. As part of iGEM, students learn many important skills like teamwork, problem-based knowledge, entrepreneurial thinking, collaboration, responsible science and engineering, safe lab work and project design, presentation skills, and scientific communication. Graduates of the Baltimore BioCrew have gone on to Brown University, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, UNC-Chapel Hill, USC, and many other prestigious schools, often on full scholarships. iGEM is a life-changing experience.
Science is FUN
Science is CREATIVE
Science is RELEVANT
Science is a TEAM SPORT
Science is DIVERSE
The iGEM Jamboree
The iGEM Jamboree allows teams to travel to Boston in October to present their work to judges and meet other teams from all over the world. Last year’s BioCrew won a bronze medal and the award for Best Presentation, and this year we’re shooting for a gold medal and awards for Best Presentation, Best Wiki, and Best Math Modeling! The Jamboree is an amazing experience that allows us to collaborate with other teams and showcase the work of Baltimore students at an international level.
The 2018 Crew
The 2019 Crew
The 2020 Crew
Our project this year is Phytoplankton Revitalization: Replenishing the Backbone of the Marine Ecosystem
In 1/3 of the world’s oceans, the iron concentration limits phytoplankton growth. Iron is required for the photosynthesis and is a critical micronutrient for the base of the marine food web (Schoffman). Phytoplankton populations have decreased by 1% annually (Boyce), and this absence resonates up the food chain from tiny krill to massive whales (Ryabov).
Higher concentrations of iron in the ocean or a better ability to capture iron could stabilize phytoplankton. This would also reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and preserve the Antarctic ice. Oceanographer John Martin first suggested adding iron to the ocean to stimulate phytoplankton growth more than 15 years ago and numerous trials have been conducted (Haiken); one discovered that each atom of iron could draw 10-100,000 atoms of carbon out of the atmosphere, a potential CO2 reduction of 15% (Schiermeier).
In choosing between the many different types of phytoplankton to work on, we chose one that consumes high levels of CO2, has a high replication rate, exists in the habitat of interest, and can cover substantial ocean surface area. We therefore chose to engineer Synechocystis sp. (cyanobacteria), a model organism that many iGEM teams have used before.
Our project will engineer cyanobacteria to transport iron into cells and reduce it to the bioavailable Fe(II) form. The increased iron levels will increase photosynthesis and growth of phytoplankton. This will stabilize the food supply for krill and the marine food chain and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our team is meeting this year on Zoom until we can get into the lab, but we already have our system designed and have planned some experiments that we can do at home!