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ABOA 2024 is aiming for victory in Paris with vitamin-producing bacteria

The synthetic biology competition, iGEM, will take place in Paris in October. The ABOA 2024 team consists of students from Åbo Akademi University, University of Turku and University of Tampere. The team is already working hard on their project to get E. coli bacteria to synthesize vitamins A, C and E.

International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) is the most well known competition in synthetic biology. The competition was started by students at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the early years of the 2000s, and has since expanded to include up to 400 teams from around 50 countries this year. This is the ABOA team’s fifth year in the competition, and two teams from Finland are participating.

Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary field that involves the development of artificial biological components and functions that do not exist in nature, achieved through methods such as genetic manipulation.

Blond kvinna i vit tröja som står vid en trappa.
Participation in iGEM offers experiences that you don’t get through your regular studies, but will benefit you in your career, says Sallianna Öztürk.

The participants in the ABOA 2024 team are mainly students at bachelor and master level. From Åbo Akademi University, Sallianna Öztürk, who is on her fourth year of biochemistry studies, is one of the 13 members making up ABOA 2024. The members of this year’s team were mainly selected by last year’s team, and they also act as support for the team. Öztürk herself applied for the team in December.

– As a slightly older biochemistry student, I have some experience in lab activities, both experimental and computer-based. I’m also quite outgoing and organized, so I’ve handled a lot of collaborative tasks and generally kept the team together, says Öztürk when describing her own contribution to the team so far.

Vitamins in space

The team started developing its research plan in March and April, and the goal is to synthesize vitamins A, C and E in E. coli bacteria. The idea is that this would be a process that could be carried out in space, giving astronauts easier and better access to several essential vitamins. In nature, E. coli bacteria can already produce some vitamins, such as vitamin B.

– Research teams have synthesized these vitamins in E. coli individually in the past, but we have, quite ambitiously, planned to synthesize all three, says Öztürk.

In practice, the team would genetically modify plasmids, ring-shaped DNA molecules in bacteria and other organisms, so that they produce the vitamins. The plasmids are then introduced into the E. coli bacteria.

Another expectation is that it would be possible to synthesize vitamins using more sustainable methods on Earth in the future. Contemporary industrial production of vitamin C is done though a rather old method. The disadvantages of this method are that it’s complicated, time-consuming, and required both high temperature and pressure. In addition, the production requires several toxic chemicals that consume a lot of energy and can seriously pollute the environment.

The team’s participation in the competition will not only require them to carry out their research project, but also to manage funding, social media, their own wiki website, as well as follow-up and so-called human practices, i.e. popularization of science. On the first of May, the team will organize a program for children in an event at University Hill. The even Vappusumppu is organized by the subject association Synapsi ry.

Conducting research and participating in the competition in Paris is not free of charge, so the team is continuously looking for sponsors and accepting donations through Kulttuurilahja until the 15th of September.

This year, the Nordic iGEM Conference (NiC) will be held in Turku between July 26th and  July 28th, as ABOA won the NiC competition last year. NiC consists of teams from the Nordic and Baltic countries and can be described as a warm-up for the main competition in Paris. NiC is an opportunity for participants to present their projects, receive feedback and network with the other teams.

ABOA 2024’s progress can be followed on the team’s website and social media

Aboa Turku