A multidisciplinary team of students from the University of Missouri-Rolla
are constructing a breathalyzer using cultured yeast cells capable of
determining ethanol concentration that can successfully determine an
individual’s blood alcohol level. The students will present their project as
part of the iGEM competition in Boston this weekend.
For the competition, the students are also constructing a biological timer
using E. coli cells. They are designing a bacterium that will change colors in
response to the addition of a sugar after a pre-set time period. Both the
biological timer and the breathalyzer determine the amount of time it takes for
a bacterium to respond to an environmental cue.
Begun as a class project at MIT in 2003, the International Genetically
Engineered Machine competition, or iGEM, has now grown into a 37-team global
competition pitting university students against one another in the quest to
develop genetically engineered machines designed to make living cells perform
specific tasks – tasks not typically found in nature.
UMR’s students will use skills from several disciplines to design their
bacterium. In the case of the breathalyzer, biological techniques will be used
to manipulate the yeast cells. Knowledge of biochemical reactions allows the
students to understand metabolic processes needed to make the yeast cells
produce a visual response to the presence of ethanol. An engineering approach
is necessary to design and construct a device that will display an individual’s
blood alcohol level.
The students will present a poster and give a 20-minute presentation about
their research at the annual iGEM Jamboree, which will be held on the MIT
campus this weekend. The will compete against 36 other schools for awards like
Best Part, Best Device and Best System, as well as an overall Grand Prize.
“The iGEM students are learning skills that will have applications in the
development of biosensors that could have broad applications in a variety of
fields," says Dr. David J. Westenberg, associate professor of biological
sciences at UMR and one of the team’s advisors. “We plan to make this an annual
event and hope to recruit more students to the program from different
Members of the 2007 UMR iGEM team are:
In addition to Westenberg, who will travel with the team to Boston, the team
is advised by Dr. David Henthorn, assistant professor of chemical and
biological engineering, Dr. Chang-Soo Kim, assistant professor of electrical
and computer engineering, and Dr. Katie Shannon, assistant professor of
biological sciences, who developed the UMR team.