Synthetic Biology Club at UNCA

This campaign ended on April 30, 2017, but you can still make a gift to University of North Carolina at Asheville by clicking here!

Matching Gift Opportunity!

The Western Regional Office of the NC Biotechnology Center will match all dollars up to $2,000 which come in between April 6th and April 30th.

A huge thank you to the folks over at the NC Biotech Center for their generosity!


What is iGEM?

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to education, competition, and the advancement of synthetic biology. The iGEM Competition is the premiere student team competition in Synthetic Biology. It encourages students to work together to solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts. Teams design, build and test their projects over the summer and gather to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree in Boston.


 What is the Project?

This year, the UNC-Asheville iGEM team will focus on the biodegradation of a toxic chemical found in the CTS superfund site in south Asheville. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has placed this residential site on the watchlist after it was discovered to be heavily contaminated with Trichloroethylene (TCE). According to the EPA and the International Agency for Research Cancer (IARC), there is correlation between TCE exposure and cancer. TCE vapors can also impact the skin and the respiratory system. TCE has also been reported to impair the immune system and disrupt the central nervous system (8). 

The pollution at the CTS site was only discovered after a family, who lived next door, noticed an oily substance in their drinking well. In 1999 a member of that family contracted brain cancer, and shortly thereafter another was diagnosed with skin cancer and two thyroid tumors. Initially, this was thought to be genetic, but one year later their granddaughter, who also lived on the property was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The maximum level of safe human consumption for TCE is 5 ppb. The EPA tested TCE levels of 830,000 ppb underneath the CTS site, and up to 34,000 ppb in nearby streams. Fortunately, TCE can be biodegraded to oxalate (a harmless edible compound) through a metabolic pathway that requires the action of 3 proteins, from different organisms. The source DNA for these proteins can be found in the iGEM Biobrick library and we wills stitch them together to create a novel, useful organism. 


Who are We?

We are an interdisciplinary team made of students from many different academic disciplines at UNC-Asheville, including Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, and Computer Science.


The faculty of UNC-Asheville have supported us with laboratory space, equipment and reagents from our club advisor Dr. Steed and Dr. Kaur of the chemistry and neuroscience department. Professors Sally Wasileski of the Chemistry department, and Jeffrey Wilcox of the Environmental Science department have worked at the Superfund site in the past and both are enthusiastic about the project.

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