A team of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology students from UHAS grabbed gold medals in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition and the International Directed Evolution Competition (IDEC). The team of nine students, coached by Prof. Kwabena O. Duedu of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Dr. Jones Gyamfi of the Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences, engineered microorganisms to tackle the issues of pollution by small-scale mining and plastic pollution in Ghana.
“iGEM and IDEC gave us the opportunity to challenge our students to develop bold solutions to critical problems confronting everyday lives. It has opened us up for endless possibilities to make impact,” said Prof. Kwabena O. Duedu, team coach.
The maiden entry was facilitated by the collaboration between UHAS and University of Edinburgh (UK). The Edinburgh-UHAS-Ghana team, one of the five teams from Africa in the iGEM competition and the only team from Africa in IDEC, was made up of eighteen team members. The students from UHAS were Stanley Samuel Sackey, Counsellor Livingstone, James Ocansey, Darlington Acquah, Gloria Mensah, Martha Sedefia, Charity Serwaa, Sharon Andy and Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi.
The team worked on the project across a five-month period. They built capacity in synthetic biology to genetically engineer organisms to detect and mop up heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium, from heavy metal-polluted water. In addition to this project, the team engineered an organism to degrade plastics. The two projects were presented for iGEM’s grand Jamboree in Paris in October 2022 whilst the development of highly functional proteins for mopping up metals using natural selection was presented for IDEC.
Plastic wastes are major environmental pollutants globally affecting life on land and in water. On the other hand mining activities have contributed to pollution of water, making it unhealthy for domestic consumption.
“These competitions afforded us the chance to solve local relevant issues using synthetic biology as a tool,” said James Ocansey, a second-year student and team member.
“It was a great experience and humbling to know that we were giving back to our environment, even in a small way,” Darlington Acquah, a second-year student and team member said. T
“It was an eye-opening experience knowing that, synthetic biology is being used to solve local and world problems,” according to Charity Serwaa, a third-year student and team member.
The technologies being developed will help improve the management of plastic waste and provide a pathway to clean and make the water domestically usable. The team efforts in the two international competitions landed them the following in IDEC: Gold awards for Best Presentation, and Best Community Building Project. The team was also nominated for Best Molecular Evolutionary Outcomes, Best molecular evolutionary machines, Best target molecule and Funniest evolution. In the iGEM competition, the team won a Gold medal and was nominated for Best Environmental Project.
It has been 19 years since the existence of iGEM. In addition to UHAS, Ashesi University was one of the two institutions in Ghana that have participated in iGEM. This year, over 350 teams with 70,000 students participated from 46 countries. UHAS is only the second university from Ghana to participate in iGEM and the first to participate in the two year existence of IDEC.
“I am grateful to represent the University on an international stage; and thanks to everyone who made the team’s participation a success,” said Stanley Samuel Sackey, third-year student, and Team Lead.