Pattern-creating bacteria designed by KU Leuven students

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After successfully competing in four previous editions,  KU Leuven once again joins the iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) – the most prestigious international students’ synthetic biology competition. The iGEM competition brings together interdisciplinary undergraduate student teams from all over the world in an effort to create micro‐organisms that can perform novel tasks. One of those teams will represent KU Leuven.

The processes behind zebra stripe formation and embryo development

Pattern formation in nature has always been considered as mysterious as it is beautiful. Animal markings, segmentation of animals, the arrangement of leaves on plants, and neuronal activation patterns, are all examples of patterns found in nature. Pattern formation also illustrates how cells in a developing embryo, which were initially equivalent, can assume complex forms and functions. How and why these patterns are created has yet to be elucidated, but additional work in this field is ongoing and developments could contribute to advancements in education, health, industry and the environment.

Spot E.Shape – pattern simulation

The Spot E.Shape pattern simulation project, fully designed by the 13 undergraduate students of KU Leuven, will attempt to better understand the mechanism of pattern formation. The KU Leuven iGEM Team plans to design and engineer regulatory circuits in bacteria, which will enable them to form a desired pattern and deposit wanted materials in a structured way. This multidisciplinary project will require skills from biochemistry, bioengineering, computing, software engineering, and mathematical model design. The team is composed of students from the Faculties of Science, Engineering, Bioscience Engineering, Medicine, and Economics and Business.

From fundamental science to novel bio-composite fibers

The knowledge gained in this research, besides contributing to fundamental science, could be applied in the production of novel bio-composite fibers with high structural strength and controlled properties. Those fibers could be shaped in any desired forms including: bricks, bones, sheets, models, etc. The KU Leuven iGEM Team aims to contribute to the development of novel carbon, metal, ceramic, and polymer matrix composites to serve medical, construction, education, agriculture, industry and environment fields. These materials would be produced using renewable, sustainable, and environmentally responsible resources.

KU Leuven students at the most prestigious synthetic biology contest

The first KU Leuven iGEM team participated in 2008, 5 years after the competition’s inception at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Boston, MA). All iGEM teams must approach their project as a potential spin‐off, in order to do so they must: engage in public debate, incorporate the demands of the end‐users in their project, fulfill health and safety requirements, investigate the ethical consequences of their project, find financial support and organize school visits to stimulate the next generation young scientists. The team from KU Leuven, who competed in 2008, scored a place in the iGEM finals. The other KU Leuven teams have continued to reach the finals in every participating year since, with teams competing in 2009, 2011, and 2013. Every team so far has been awarded the gold medal. Moreover, the team that competed in 2013 won the “Best Model” prize for the most encompassing and innovative mathematical model. Let’s cross our fingers for the team representing KU Leuven in 2015 with their Spot E.Shape pattern simulation project.

Image courtesy of Diana Robinson and Andy at