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Students Recognized at International Competition

November 20, 2017

Band practice

WLC Recognized at International Biotechnology Competition for Fifth Consecutive Year

Milwaukee, WI - A team of students from Wisconsin Lutheran College took part in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston, Massachusetts, earlier this month. WLC competed with more than 300 teams from schools in every corner of the world at the iGEM 2017 Giant Jamboree, earning a bronze medal, which was the same medal awarded to teams from such institutions as MIT, Stanford, and the University of Michigan.

The WLC project involved developing a kit that will test water for E. coli contamination quickly and easily. This is important because E. coli is a common indicator of sewage contamination in water. Testing constantly needs to be performed to ensure that water used for drinking, agriculture, or recreation is free from sewage contamination that would make people very sick.

The team started by trying out current testing kits on the market and found that these kits took too long to provide results (up to 48 hours), were inaccurate, or required specialized equipment a normal individual would not own. So the team worked to develop a kit that would give accurate results within minutes and required no complicated equipment. To do this, the students used part of a bacteriophage (virus that infects bacteria only) that is specific for E. coli. An enzyme was then attached to this bacteriophage part. This would allow students to add this bacteriophage part with the enzyme to a water sample, and it would bind to any E. coli that are present. The addition of a chemical would interact with the enzyme and cause a color change that would indicate if or how much E. coli was present.

Dr. John Werner, associate professor of biology at WLC, said, "Our team was able to complete much of the project, which gives us a great deal of hope that this could actually work quickly and easily like we intend. There is still more troubleshooting and engineering needed to produce a final product, however.”

In addition to taking part in the iGEM competition, the team visited Harvard University and met with a professor to discuss their project, learn about research at Harvard, and tour the institution. "It was a great experience for the students and for us faculty as well," said Dr. Werner. 

2017-11 iGem team at Harvard2017-11 iGem team - judging


2017 iGem Team Members

Jack Bechtel '19 - Biochemistry and Marine Biology

Elise Sloey '18 - Biochemistry

Harrison Fleming '18 - Biology

Ching-Tzu Yu '18 - Biology

Troy Moench '18 - Mathematics and Computer Science

Melissa Helmer '18 - Biology

Laura Sanford '21 - Chemistry

Greta Sievert '18 - Media Design

Emily Palm '20 - Biology and Psychology

Sylas Boniek '21 - Biology

Dr. James Henkel, Assistant Professor of Biology (instructor)

Dr. John Werner, Associate Professor of Biology (instructor)