Bee-Free Honey, Oh How Sweet It Is

November 14, 2019
By: Jennifer Frey

A team of Technion students placed in the top category in the prestigious iGEM competition earlier this month in Boston, marking the sixth time since 2012 that the Technion has garnered gold. Their project this year: sustainable, synthetic, bee-free honey.

The Technion team has been working for the past year to create a bee-free honey using engineered bacteria to secrete enzymes that mimic the honey bee stomach environment. The synthetic honey comes from commercial strains of the safe bacterium Bacillus subtilis, which “learn” to produce the honey following reprogramming in the lab. The innovation is important because the use of honey in medicine, cosmetics, and food is growing, while the bee population in many parts of the world is declining.

Award-winning Technion iGEM team at the competition

Award-winning Technion iGEM team at the competition

Separate from the honey production, the Technion team placed in the top five in the iGEM Community Engagement category. Within this framework, the Technion students invited 44 students from high schools in Haifa to participate in a unique Hackathon on environmental issues and sustainability. “The Green Choice” group, the Hackathon winner, created a solution to reduce global food waste with an application that allowed supermarkets to offer lower prices on expiring products.

International Genetically Engineered Machine was established by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to encourage students to push the boundaries of synthetic biology while tackling everyday world challenges. Some 300 teams from universities all over the world took part in this year’s competition. The teams were required to both develop a scientific-technological idea, and a business plan. In addition to building the new technology, the participants had to raise research funding, meet with experts from academia and industry, and perform experiments to improve the product.

This year, with the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Technion, the Technion delegation consisted of 12 students from six faculties: Biomedical Engineering; Medicine; Biotechnology and Food Engineering; Industrial Management and Engineering; Chemical Engineering; and Aerospace Engineering. The students were: Asaf Licht; Lior Haim; Zeinat Awwad; Nir Litver; Mai Dror; Ofri Warsha; Ilan Brajzblat; Oriyet Tibi; Yehonatan Zur; Dor Ben Meir; Shira Levi; and Lidya Tannenzapf.

Student groups from the Technion have been participating in the iGEM competition since 2012 under the initiative of Professor Roee Amit, head of the Synthetic Biology Laboratory for the Decipherment of Genomic Codes in the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, and Lab Director Dr. Orna Atar. This year the group was also guided by mentors Noa Eden, Tzila Davidov, and Liron Abrahami-Patchuk.

“The winnings in the competition are definitely exciting, but equally important is the intellectual property created around the project,” said Prof. Amit. Over the years, dozens of startups have been born through the international competition.

“Just this year,” he continued, “we’ve shortlisted two rare achievements with developments from previous student competitions: a scientific article published January 2, and a patent approved in the United States on March 26.” The article describes the use of engineered bacteria to detect and measure harmful substances in food and water. The patent, which Prof. Amit and Dr. Attar are signed onto together with students who participated in the 2015 iGEM competition, is a device for preventing baldness based on body bacteria activity.

For more than a century, the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology has pioneered in science and technology education and delivered world-changing impact. Proudly a global university, the Technion has long leveraged boundary-crossing collaborations to advance breakthrough research and technologies. Now with a presence in three countries, the Technion will prepare the next generation of global innovators. Technion people, ideas, and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world, innovating in fields from cancer research and sustainable energy to quantum computing and computer science to do good around the world.

The American Technion Society supports visionary education and world-changing impact through the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. Based in New York City, we represent thousands of US donors, alumni, and stakeholders who invest in the Technion’s growth and innovation to advance critical research and technologies that serve the State of Israel and the global good. Over more than 75 years, our nationwide supporter network has funded new Technion scholarships, research, labs, and facilities that have helped deliver world-changing contributions and extend Technion education to campuses in three countries.