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Leiden iGEM students win prize with squid protein

The Leiden students who participated in the iGEM synthetic biology competition have won the prize for best production. They developed a way to have bacteria produce the substance suckerine, a protein derived from the Humboldt squid. By doing so, they want to help heal burn wounds. ‘The announcement was a very emotional moment because we worked so hard for it.’

Maarten Lubbers

Jury impressed

Exactly 360 teams participated in this year's global iGEM competition, in which student teams use synthetic biology to solve societal problems. So while the Leiden students had a lot of competition for the 'Best Manufacturing Project' prize, they managed to be crowned as winners. ‘For this prize, the jury looks at the products that the various teams have made with the aid of synthetic biology,’ says relationship manager Maarten Lubbers. ‘They were very impressed by the fact that we produced the suckerine protein. This protein is extremely difficult to produce; we are the first iGEM team to have succeeded in that.’

Daan van Tol

The joy was great when the team saw the results at the prize ceremony in Boston. Secretary Daan van Tol: ‘First we saw on a big screen that our team was nominated for this prize, I couldn't believe that. Then we held our breath; were we going to win? When we saw that we had won, we burst into cheering. That was a very emotional moment because we worked so hard for it. Really fantastic.’

Jo-Anne Verschoor

‘Clinical trials are needed’

A great achievement to produce the protein suckerine, but does that also mean the end of the project? Science manager Jo-Anne Verschoor does not know yet: ‘The suckerine protein was discovered relatively recently. We are the first team to actually work on a specific application of the protein. Our hydrogel for burns is not yet applicable, so the product still has to be optimised. But depending on the interest and resources, we want to continue with this.’ Maarten and team member Jonah Anderson spoke to the Centre for Human Drug Research, which is also located at the Leiden Bio Science Park. ‘During our meetings, it became clear that clinical trials are necessary in order to actually bring our product to the market. On average, this takes about ten years.’

The iGEM team with their prize


In order to make their research possible during the past year, the students organised a crowdfunding campaign via Steun Leiden. With this crowdfunding they raised 10.020 euro. ‘We are extremely grateful to the many donors because they enabled us to carry out our research so successfully,’ says Maarten. ‘At the various events we attended, such as Werfpop and the Night of Discoveries, people were immediately enthusiastic about our project. You could it moved them.’

Floor Stel

'Work hard, but also enjoy'

Floor Stel brought the iGEM project closer to society, for example with the discussion evening on the ethical aspects of synthetic biology. She likes to offer future iGEM some advice: ‘iGEM is a roller coaster with both ups and downs, but don't forget to enjoy it, because before you know it those nine months will be over again. In addition, iGEM is a great opportunity to connect with a large and diverse group of people, both professionally and personally.’

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