Technion Students Create the Golden Chip

December 13, 2016
Jennifer Frey


The 2016 iGEM Technion team

A team of students from the Technion won the gold medal at the prestigious iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) biology competition for the third consecutive year. The group of 13 students, led by Assistant Professor Roee Amit, took first place for developing an innovative chip for fast, accurate and simple detection of various substances using biological means.

Their invention, called Flash Lab, is based on the natural biological phenomenon chemotaxis, in which bacteria can sense the external environment and move in response to a chemical stimulus, creating clusters of visible bacteria. Employing a chip loaded with E. coli bacteria, the user puts the chip in the substance that he wants to test, and receives an immediate indication of the presence or absence of a particular substance, such as hormones, pollutants, heavy metals, etc.

Winning iGEM is no small feat. Contestants must submit a research proposal, carry out an independent study, raise the necessary funding and present their results in the finals. Participating teams are also evaluated on their scientific contribution to the general public. In this context, the Technion 2016 team members, with the help of Technion Distinguished Professor and Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman, initiated scientific lectures and volunteered to participate in science activities for pre-school and kindergarten children.

iGEM aims to develop products—and there is every indication that the Flash Lab research has legs beyond the competition. The team is publishing their findings and has developed a working prototype. “We are moving ahead with this research,” says Prof. Amit. The next phase would be to create a startup company that would determine which contaminants are financially worthwhile to detect. The two most promising markets for application would be civilian (home use) and the military.

“It is entirely possible to make a product from this,” says Prof. Amit. “The timing is based on bringing aboard the right people to continue the development of this project.”

iGEM started as a course at MIT in 2004, and has grown into a worldwide competition in the field of synthetic biology. In 2012, Prof. Amit’s team at the Technion became the first in Israel to compete. Its 2015 team won multiple achievements, including Best New Application award.

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