Lambert iGEM: The “Varsity” Team of Academics

Lambert’s iGEM team brought home its greatest victory, earning a silver medal and two nominations for best poster and best wiki.

According to the official website, “The iGEM Foundation is dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration.” The community is composed of collegiate and high school iGEM teams across the globe. These teams come together annually in the iGEM competition, in which the teams present their genetically engineered systems.

“Synthetic biology is making cells act as machines. We engineer life and treat cells like factories to generate a product,” explains Mrs. Brittany Cantrell, an advisor of the iGEM team,

and the head of the science department at Lambert.This year’s team was composed of fifteen students, and lead by advisors Mrs. Janet Standeven, Mrs. Shelby Cochrane, and Mrs. Brittney Cantrell. The Lambert iGEM team was initiated in 2012 by Mrs. Standeven, who was also named 2016 Biotechnology teacher of the year by the organization Georgia Bio. Due to the rigor and effort required to put into the team, Mrs. Standeven described it as “truly being the varsity team for academics.”

From October 27-31, iGEM held its Giant Jamboree Convention in Boston, where Lambert competed against iGEM teams across the globe. Lambert was one of the 37 high school teams internationally, and five high school teams in the United States to compete. Among the collegiate teams were Duke, Emory, Stanford, Harvard, and Yale.

This year, the Lambert iGEM team engineered a gene and created a biosensor to detect levels of zinc, which is a micronutrient necessary for proper health. The project was called “switch”, as a part of the project was creating a  genetically engineered switch which restricts and manipulates specific proteins. The current diagnostic tests for malnourishment are inefficient and expensive. Lambert iGEM aimed to create a solution to these diagnostic tests, which would mean waiting weeks to receive results. The engineered biosensors can test for low levels of zinc and determine results in less than thirty hours.

The team also learns practical aspects of the science field, such as marketing. To compete at the collegiate level, the team partners with several sponsors. This year the sponsors were  AGCO, Dr. Davidson, Franklin Technologies, Siemens, and the Styczynski Lab at Georgia Tech.

The applications for the 2017 iGEM team were released this week. Deciding factors on the applications include GPA, teacher recommendations, and whether or not the student has experience in the biotechnology pathway and AP Biology. The committee will review and decide the iGEM team members over the course of the next two weeks. This way, the team can start preparing and work until the end of the school year. From August to October the meetings become strenuous. “We met several times a week: mornings, lunch and learn, afternoon. During the last few weeks before the competition, we met every day,” explained Mrs. Cantrell.

“You learn the real life applications of science through iGEM. Lambert is just the launching pad, there is a world beyond, don’t let the walls of Lambert limit you,” explained Mrs. Cantrell, “You learn to deal with defeat. If you are a quitter, science isn’t for you.”