How did we work closely throughout our project with another iGEM team?

Partnership with the University of Thessaly iGEM Team

Throughout our research process, we have been in close partnership with the University of Thessaly iGEM Team. We collaborated on various research projects and campaigns that have greatly shaped our projects. Here are some of our journeys.

First meet-up in February

After learning about Thessaly’s iGEM 2020 project and the incredible achievement they made, we recognize the potential for a close partnership that would be beneficial to both teams. Prior to the official start of iGEM 2021, we reached out to Thessaly to inquire whether they would be interested in forming a partnership, to which they happily agreed. We decided to collaborate on all aspects of the iGEM competition, including wet lab, dry lab and integrated human practices.

Co-hosted lecture on IBD research - Frontiers in Gut Research

In an effort to raise awareness about Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and overall intestinal well-being, McMaster’s Synthetic Biology Research Team (McMaster Synbio) hosted an interactive webinar in collaboration with the University of Thessaly’s Synthetic Biology Team, along with acclaimed researchers Dr. Brian Coombes and Dr. Alexandra Meziti. Dr. Brian Coombes is a professor and chair at McMaster University’s Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Coombes is also the Canada Research Chair in Infectious Disease Pathogenesis and his research is centred around Crohn’s disease and host-pathogen interactions. His lab is also currently conducting basic research and working with the private sector to understand the microbes that drive chronic inflammation during Crohn's disease, with a particular focus on adherent-invasive E. coli (AIEC) that are linked to Crohn's disease in humans. In particular, they use cell and animal models to understand how the host responds to AIEC over time. As a result, we felt it was important to include Dr. Coombes as the main guest of this interactive webinar to gain insight into our current project and educate the general public about the impact that IBD can have on gut health. Dr. Coombes also provided insight on breakthroughs his lab has made relating to understanding the gut microbe interactions involved in IBD as well as some of the current therapeutics used to treat people with IBD. In addition, Dr. Alexander Meziti is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of nutritional sciences and dietetics at the International Hellenic University. Dr Meziti’s research is focused on microbial ecology in aquatic environments and the gut microbiome under changing conditions. Her lab also uses animal models including fish to study gut microbe interactions and the effect that these interactions have on intestinal health. Furthermore, the purpose of this interactive webinar was to educate the general public across the globe on the topic of the human gut microbiome and its effect on our well-being. During the webinar, the professors spoke about their respective fields and answered questions from our team as well as the general audience members. This webinar was also live-streamed and recorded in order to reach and educate a wider demographic on the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Lastly, we believe that the topics discussed in this webinar will inspire students to pursue research in the field of gastroenterology so that they can contribute to breakthroughs in the field and become one step closer to finding a cure for IBD.

Conducted surveys about GMOs and IBD patients; shared results for integrated human practice

Together with Thessaly, we identified 2 questions that are important for the development and implementation of our projects: What are some of the limitations of current IBD therapeutics and from the patients’ perspectives, how should novel biological therapeutics help ameliorate their symptom and improve their life qualities? Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have made tremendous contributions to modern society. However, there is still a lot of hesitancy regarding the safety of GMOs. We wonder how well are GMOs accepted by the general public and what are some of the specific safety concerns.

We were tasked with Question #1. Over the summer, we met virtually with a number of IBD patients to talk about their daily struggles and issues with their current medication. Some of the key information has been documented on the Integrated Human Practices page. The overall takeaway from the patient feedback is that IBD treatments must be examined through a broad lens, which takes into account the multifaceted nature of the disease. Most patients will try almost any treatment that offers relief from their symptoms, even if it means subjecting themselves to disruptive and expensive methods. While current therapies may prove useful in alleviating certain symptoms, the disease as a whole requires further investigation into its various aspects as prevalence continues to grow worldwide. This information, which has been shared with Thessaly, has greatly shaped the development of our project. We decided to move away from the traditional focus on immunosuppression to targeting one of the root causes of IBD. The information has also provided great insights for Thessaly, especially with regards to patients’ sentiments towards novel biological therapy. The information regarding the GMOs can be found here.

Received Guidance and troubleshooting from Thessaly

As a Phase 1 team, we have encountered many technical challenges during our project development process, one of which being to select the appropriate plasmid backbone for our circuit. Thessaly shared their previous experiences with us and introduced us to the Standard European Vector Architecture (pSEVA) library. They helped us navigate through this incredibly helpful tool with great patience. At the end, we were able to find the appropriate backbones for our circuits with the desired properties. Thessaly also introduced us to the cutting-edge GoldenBraid cloning method, which we took into careful consideration when choosing the suitable cloning method for constructing our circuits. In addition, as the more experienced iGEM team, Thessaly has helped us navigate through many other aspects of the competition, including the usage of different common software and creating the wiki page. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Thessaly for their tremendous support throughout this process.

Vector selection for designing genetically modified probiotics; shared results for chassis selection

Since there has been increasing interest in engineering bacteria to treat various gastrointestinal diseases, we believe it is crucial to critically examine and compare the common chassis using in this context. Specifically, we chose four candidate bacteria families or strains based on their safety profile or therapeutic potentials: E.coli Nissle 1917, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus thermophilus. We highlighted main considerations such as colonization ability, immunogenicity, ease of culture, and overall safety profile. We highlighted main considerations such as colonization ability, immunogenicity, ease of culture, and overall safety profile. We shared these research results with Thessaly to help them chose the best chassis for their project, which also concerns the use of probiotic bacteria in IBD. These results will also provide detailed guidance for future iGEM teams that are interested in pursuing these types of projects. For more information, see our Implementation page.

McMaster SynBio 2021