U of Calgary biosensor project takes students to competition at MIT

This looks pretty cool. University of Calgary biosensor project takes students to competition at MIT (emphasis added)

A group of undergraduate students has developed a process that uses genetically modified bacteria to help monitor the levels of toxins in oil sands tailings ponds. The project has earned them a spot at the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) World Championship Jamboree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Nov. 5 – 7.

Eleven students from the faculties of medicine, science and engineering created a biosensor–a sensor that is biologically based–to detect levels of naphthenic acids (NAs), which can be toxic in certain quantities. The students spent months growing bacteria in a laboratory and adding a mini genome to enable the detection of NAs.

From Edmonton Journal, “Bacteria used to find oilsands toxins” (emphasis added)

“We decided early on we wanted to do an oilsands project because it’s so relevant to Alberta, it would be easier to get funding, and it was interesting to us,” said Emily Hicks, 21, a fourth-year biomedical sciences student and team captain.

The group created a bio-sensor to detect levels of naphthenic acids (NAs), which can be toxic.

The researchers grew bacteria in a laboratory, then added a mini genome to help detect the NAs. If NA gas is present, it causes a change in the bacteria which is then recorded on a computer hooked up to take readings.

“It will essentially start to form something that gives us a charge,” Hicks said.

We can see that on the graph.” The process takes just a few minutes.

Energy companies conduct regular sampling to monitor tailings pond toxins.

The students’ process “presumably will be a lot lower cost,” and could one day be used in Alberta’s oilsands, said Lisa Gieg, U of C assistant professor in biological sciences and faculty facilitator of the project.

“We still have a lot of ways to go to develop and standardize, but that’s the vision, to eventually use it as a screening tool, to try to detect, in particular, naphthenic acids.”

“The University of Calgary iGem team will be tweeting from the finals. Follow them on twitter @iGemCalgary and follow the conversation #igem2011

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iGem Calgary – Last Project Night – TGIF Parody – iGEM Calgary 2011

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