iGEM Stockholm

Stockholm iGEM 2021!

Our project this year is called Mikroskin, and is an aptamer-based test for dysbiosis on the skin microbiome!

Almost everyone has either struggled with skin issues or insecurity, and if you haven't then you almost certainly know someone who has. Our skin is one of the first things that the world sees when they look at us, and we know that snap judgements are made about us, and our character, based on the condition that our skin is. We have far less control over the state of our skin than we like to think we do, and there are countless different potential causes for any singular problem.

One major cause of many skin issues comes from bacteria. Every single square centimetre of our skin is covered in over a million bacteria. If the precarious balance of different bacteria on our skin is changed or if we simply have too much or too little of a specific bacteria, you will probably see or feel it in one way or another.

An unbalance of bacteria is called dysbiosis, and it is mainly influenced by environmental factors, such as weather or how oily your face is. When you have dysbiosis, a common result is acne. If you'd ever struggled, or currently struggle with acne, then you probably know how stubborn and painful the condition can be. Acne affects nearly 9 in every 10 people worldwide.

There has been an explosion in research based about the microbiota that is based in our gut system, and the skin microbiota has been following behind this trend. While it is not quite at the level as the gut microbiota in numbers just yet, there is still ever-increasing groups and papers coming out on the subject. A major issue that comes in with research on the skin microbiota is the mild trouble in measurements, which tend towards tedious and slow processing.

If you take that into consideration, a major boon for research would be easing the way in which data can be collected. That is a major benefit to our project.

Furthermore, once more research is reviewed and accepted concerning the link between bacteria and skin, and a causal relationship established, a test can be developed to easier diagnose the cause of skin problems

Currently, if you go to a doctor or a dermatologist presenting a skin issue, particularly acne, you are given creams, or antibiotics, or harsh chemicals designed to strip your skin of protective oils in hopes of removing the cause. Overuse of antibiotics causes huge concerns; most notably antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. iGEM Stockhom certainly doesn't think that it's a good idea to swap acne with MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

So if you could figure out what is causing your skin problems before trying product after product, causing you pain, scars, and potentially unwittingly and unnecessarily contributing to one of the largest threats to global health today, wouldn't you?

That's where we come in. iGEM Stockholm's project this year is based around trying to ease measurements of the skin microbiota, specifically concentrations of bacteria which are strongly linked to different skin conditions, and through doing so, helping remove some of the cloudiness surrounding skincare.

So keep reading! And you'll what we've been up to and how it's been going, and see some of the more interesting details below :)

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We aimed to produce a test which detects the abundance of targeted bacteria present on skin using DNA aptamers. This rapid test has the potential to diagnose dysbiosis in skin microbiota which leads to acne and atopic dermatitis. The test can be suitable for home use, use in research labs and use in hospitals.

Our test was aimed for acne vulgaris, the official name for the common form of the disease acne. In this wiki, this will be continuously referred to as acne.


To get a better understanding of what constitutes a healthy microbiome we planned to collect samples from people with and without skin problems and sequence their skin microbiome. The rapid test is based on affinity binding and detection using colorimetry. The detection of the selected bacteria is done with polydiacetylene (PDA) which changes colour from blue to red when said selected bacteria is present in the sample. The intensity of the red colour correlates to the abundance of the species on the skin, although this is only an indication of relative concentration, rather than a hard value. Unfortunately, PDA requires UV light for polymerization, which does affect the usability of the test. We are hoping to make a polymerized version of PDA stable enough to include directly in the test.

When it comes to detecting the bacteria, and which bacteria is relevant for our purposes, specific species which are present on the skin will be targeted, for which specific aptamers have been selected. A higher abundance of Staphylococcus aureus on the skin has been shown to correlate with the severity of atopic dermatitis. As an aside, atopic dematitis is a skin disease characterized by flareups of redness and itchiness. It is more commonly known by the name "ezcema".

Alternatively, Cutibacterium acnes (C.acnes) Phylotype IA1 is found to be abundant in acne skin by multiple metagenomic studies. As a result, these were the selected bacteria that we decided on for our rapid test!

A general aptamer for all gram positive bacteria (teichoic acid) was selected for use as a control. Aptamers developed include:

  • All Gram-positive with teichoic acid (metabolite) as target
  • C. acnes
  • Aptamers targeting Protein A, a surface protein of S.aureus, are already developed, and so required no further work from our team. The colorimetric detection involves the development of a model which gives the test output based on the results. This is the major model worked on by our drylab subgroup, as well as perform simulations regarding the aptamer. If you'd like to read about this model in more detail please see here. The present method for delivering results is a pH-like solution where the user gets a reference band of different intensities of red that corresponds to the abundance of the bacterium. A certain abundance is marked as the threshold for dysbiosis.

    We plan to incorporate our aptamers into a biobrick, and in addition, we will optimise a biobrick for protein A. This allowed us to train with cloning right from the start of our project.

    Project Promotion Video

    If the above video doesn't work for you, feel free to watch our promotion video on Mikroskin here!

    All the content on this website is based on the example wiki and has been used for demonstration only.


    Want to learn more about our project and the nitty-gritty scientific details?

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    Our dry-lab has done a fantastic job working on the model showing our project for you to visualise here!

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    Human Practices

    Despite the pandemic, we worked tireless to connect with the community and organise safe events for people to get to know our team and work, and have some fun!

    Read more