PseuPomona – that is the name of a genetically engineered bacterium and the centre of this years’ Wageningen University & Research iGEM team. PseuPomona promises to protect flowers of fruit trees from the detrimental effect of early spring frost. This week, the PseuPomona team showed their achievements to the judges in Paris and was rewarded with a gold medal and nominated as one of the best projects in the category ‘agriculture’.
Frost damage is one of the biggest climate-related hazards in agriculture. The PseuPomona team presents a novel approach for combatting frost damages using the tools of synthetic biology. They present a bacterium that colonises the roots of fruit trees and injects plant hormones into the tree. This helps the flowers to stay in their buds. As long as flowers remain in their buds, they are well protected from frost damage.
The students' idea became feasible through the iGEM competition. This international competition offers students the opportunity to tackle a major scientific project and to share scientific progress with each other. This year, over 400 teams from all over the world competed against each other. "I am proud of what we accomplished as a team", says Johannes Heisterberg, team captain. "Proud of the experiments and how we presented our project to the outside world."
The projects of the 400 teams vary widely, but all revolve around synthetic biology. This branch of science reprogrammes cells or microorganisms to make useful substances or to remove unwanted ones. Synthetic biology offers prospects for tackling social, environmental and medical problems. The iGEM competition lets students use their creativity to do just that.
Handing over the baton
The iGEM team of Wageningen University & Research consists of eight students with different specialisations in microbiology, plant sciences and synthetic biology. They are supported by scientists from the laboratories of Microbiology, Systems & Synthetic Biology, Bioprocess Engineering and Molecular Biology.
"I am impressed to see how this team grew and how they integrated multiple synthetic biology techniques towards a new tool in agriculture", says Nico Claassens, iGEM coordinator. Fellow coordinator Robert Smith adds: "We are proud of the team's achievements. The team has made a lot of effort to communicate their work with fruit farmers and ensure their application could be accepted by society. We look forward to seeing what the team does in the future."
After the finals, the team continues to work on the project. In January, they will hand over the baton to a new team of Wageningen students who will once again set up a project to make the world healthier, better or safer through synthetic biology.