The iGEM Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of all areas of synthetic biology. It runs an annual international competition where multidisciplinary teams of university students design, build and test their own unique research projects from start to finish. The projects can cover the whole range of topics within synthetic biology – such as bioremediation, therapeutic treatments or sustainable materials – but should ultimately aim to solve real world problems and contribute to society. Teams document their work through deliverables like wikis, videos and presentations, with prizes being awarded by a panel of expert judges at the end of a live event.
The group at Technische Universität Braunschweig (TU_BS) developed a self-amplifying detection system for the competition, which can be used to identify small amounts of tumor marker antigens in blood samples. This novel tool has the potential to contribute to the early diagnosis and treatment of many cancers, improving patient outcomes and survival rates in the long term. Benjamin Harder, one of the students in the TU_BS iGEM team, explained briefly how their new design works: “Our prototype system consists of three components: a detection element, a reporter, and an amplification system. The set-up can be adapted to target the desired antigen by exchanging the single-chain variable fragments used in the detection component, allowing us to identify a wide variety of cancer metabolites in blood samples, even at very low concentrations.”
Benjamin went on to describe why the team chose INTEGRA pipettes for their research: “We were the first iGEM team at our university for some time, so we were starting from scratch in terms of the lab equipment available to us. Until recently, we only had a few outdated pipettes with ill-fitting pipette tips. In addition, they did not have a multi-dispense function, so we had to painstakingly pipette all our reagents back and forth for every individual step. These factors understandably made our liquid handling workflows time consuming and error prone and, as we were preparing for the iGEM competition alongside our normal studies, time was certainly of the essence. We therefore decided that it was time to upgrade to VIAFLO electronic pipettes and EVOLVE manual pipettes.”
Precise and reliable pipetting was particularly important for TU_UB’s iGEM project, since the methods they used – including PCR, restriction, ligation and transformation – all involve very small volumes of enzymes or nucleic acids. On top of this, the group was keen to avoid wasting precious materials, such as enzymes or synthesized DNA. This made the VIAFLO and EVOLVE pipettes really well suited to the team’s applications. “The VIAFLO and EVOLVE pipettes made our liquid handling steps faster and more efficient, saving us a lot of valuable time and enhancing our lab’s productivity. We’re also very pleased with the GRIPTIP pipette tips, as they never become loose or fall off the pipettes. This all helped us to achieve significantly higher throughput, while minimizing the likelihood of manual errors or the wastage of expensive reagents,” Benjamin continued.
“The lightweight design of the pipettes and our PIPETBOY acu 2 pipette controller practically eliminate physical strain, making the long hours in the lab almost effortless. The PIPETBOY also noticeably improved our pipetting precision, and cut down on the number of manual errors. INTEGRA’s platforms improved the overall accuracy and reproducibility of our results, giving us greater confidence in our findings. Every day working on our project in the lab was different and unpredictable, but INTEGRA’s products greatly helped us to deal with some of the surprises and challenges we came across as we got closer to the final of the exciting competition,” Benjamin concluded.
All teams entered in the 2022 iGEM contest presented their projects during the Grand Jamboree in Paris, France, from the 26th to the 28th of October 2022, with prize winners being announced on the final day. TU_BS was awarded a silver medal for their innovative project, a much-deserved reward for the group’s months of hard work.