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Virginia Commonwealth University Alliance Student Hired to Work on 2009 MIT iGEM Competition

During the summer of 2009, following her freshman year in the School of Engineering, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) student Afton Trent acquired a position in Dr. Stephen Fong's laboratory in order to work on the iGEM project team.

The iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) is the premier annual undergraduate synthetic biology competition, hosted at MIT, in which students design and build biological systems and operate them in living cells.

Through iGEM, Afton gained valuable lab experience and field knowledge in "novel biological systems". The VCU team focused on characterizing promoters, which can be likened to a switch that begins the process of DNA transcription.

To measure the strength of promoters, BioBricks - a standardized method of assembling DNA - and e.coli were used in order to measure the strength of protein expressed, and therefore the strength of the promoter. This research by the VCU improved the BioParts registry, an online database that categorizes and catalogues all of the BioBricks and their constituent parts.

Although in its early stages, this larger picture of synthetic biology is meant to create systems that can perform more complex tasks, such as aiding in the production of biofuels, and the treatment of cancer.

Afton worked on this project through most of her summer break, and feels that working or volunteering in a lab during undergraduate study is an excellent way to gain valuable experience, and to explore different focus areas within a major.  As a chemical and life science major, Afton found that this research helped her determine her own specific focus areas within those fields.

The 2009 VCU iGem team (Afton Trent, far right)

 

 

  

 

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