Team:UNSW Australia/Judging


PROTECC Coral was awarded a gold medal in the 2021 iGEM Competition. The following outlines our accomplishments for each medal criteria:


Competition Deliverables

Our Wiki, Presentation Video and final Judging Form have been completed.


A dedicated page has been allocated to attributions, where we have detailed the valuable contributions each UNSW iGEM team member made to the project. We are thankful for everyone’s efforts, including the support that we gained from external sources, including our community, cultural, business and scientific stakeholders. View Attributions.

Project Description

Our project has social, cultural and scientific implications that are aimed at developing an actionable design to remediate coral bleaching arising from climate change. We have taken on cultural and communal perspectives and experiences to help develop a project with positive impact for the country. We hope that, in the long term, consideration of diverse voices plays a larger role in science whilst also advancing synthetic biology due to reduced stigma.

The project by UNSW Australia works to assist the perseverance of Australian culture and identity. We have further explained our project motivations, goals, and achievements in Project Description.


Our team has documented our experimental data, methods and troubleshooting of an existing Part on the Parts Registry which we believe would be helpful for future teams in terms of experimental design. We have also created new Parts that we used in our Design with information learnt from literature to be available for future teams to learn and benefit from. Learn more about our Contribution.


Engineering Success

Our team’s approach to this project, in respect to both the glutathione system and heat shock protein components, was heavily influenced by the engineering design cycle. This can be seen on a macro level in our overall project structure, and on a micro level throughout the iterative development process. The results obtained through dry- and wet-lab experiments were able to inform each other, enabling an efficient and cohesive project where new data was consistently incorporated to refine the project’s direction. The design and refinement of our experiments was continuously informed by feedback from experts and stakeholders from the project’s starting breadth to its final weeks. Read more about Engineering Success.


This year, our team hosted a virtual symposium between five different presenting iGEM teams focused on the topic of biodiversity. It was also targeted at the general public in line with our goal of creating greater awareness for the benefits of synthetic biology. This event fostered a collaborative environment, allowing teams to gain insights into eachothers’ approach to iGEM, the problems being faced around the world, and the audiences’ take on the presented solutions. Other notable collaboration efforts include working with iGEM St Andrews through our Human Practices department, wherein meetings were held to discuss ideas and data as we had similar projects. We also collaborated with fellow Sydney-based team iGEM USyd consistently throughout the year, informing each other of laboratory progress and providing each other with wiki support. Read more about our Collaborations.

Human Practices

A diversity of stakeholder opinions were vital in shaping our project to be deemed responsible and good for the world. A people-centered approach, with a focus on engaging with stakeholders through in depth interviews and email exchanges, ensured we understood the social and cultural implications of our project. Our four focus stakeholder groups were Academics, Traditional Owners, Businesses and Government Bodies. By first meeting with social scientists, we delved into the ethics and social values to ensure our project was informed ethically and our HP discussion was free of biases. The ensuing consultations with various individuals allowed us to deeply understand their perspective on coral bleaching and what constitutes a good solution in both application and post-care for our reefs. Ultimately, our project was inclusive of a broad set of values, including environmental, cultural, political and economic to produce a solution that the people will see as good and necessary. Learn more about our project's Human Practices.

Proposed Implementation

Our Proposed Implementation details how we designed a three-step approach to implement our project into the environment. The approach involves ex-situ testing of our modified Symbiodinium sp. in a simulated reef environment, followed by in-situ testing of our modified algae in areas of depleted coral biodiversity. The final stage of our implementation is the in-situ release of our modified algal system into normal biodiversity conditions. As a team, we have elected our end-users to be the government and non-government organisations whose incentives are to conserve and protect the marine environment. Safety aspects we considered relate to preserving the biodiversity of the GBR and preventing unintentional invasion of our modified species outside of its intended environment. To mitigate this risk, we investigated kill switches to our designs to ensure that our algal symbiote remains controlled and will cease functioning once a threshold for increased coral biodiversity is reached. Read more about our Proposed Implementation.


Integrated Human Practices

Our Human Practices and Proposed Implementation pages revolved around the efforts the team went through to resolve the disconnect between the public and science spheres. The responses from our internationally-diverse survey allowed us to analyse the public’s perception of GMOs and their perspectives on our proposed solution. The feedback recapitulated the need to maintain transparency from our end, and we enacted this response by developing a pipeline detailing the future of our project and creating a comprehensive risk assessment that provides solutions to mitigate any foreseeable risks from the implementation of our product. These were informed by peer-reviewed journal articles and integrating the key takeaways of our consultations with a wide array of stakeholders. Although the latter provided an assorted outlook on the use of GMOs to solve this issue, each conversation reaffirmed the positive reception of our solution and its intended purpose. Learn more about our Integrated Human Practices.

Project Modeling

Our team’s solution revolves around implementing transcribable proteins into the algal symbiont. For this, we modelled both parts of our solution - small heat shock proteins and a glutathione antioxidant system - to observe how the systems may behave in our target organism. Additionally, since our project addresses the incidence of increasing coral bleaching due to rising sea temperatures, we also had to consider how changes to temperature and pH levels in the ocean will affect our engineering approach. To study the small heat shock protein HSP22E, we performed extensive structural modelling to develop energetically and biologically favourable predictions for the monomeric and oligomeric structures of HSP22E, and used molecular dynamics to observe the protein’s interaction with denatured proteins. To gain insights into the glutathione system, we constructed a kinetic model to study the behaviour of the three part enzymatic system, using the observations to support and inform decisions surrounding the Wet Lab’s experimental design. Learn more about Our Approach to project modelling, our Structural Modelling of heat shock protein HSP22E, and Kinetic Modelling of the glutathione system.

Education & Communication

Our educational package is a one-for-all package that targets different age groups. We’ve included a storybook to teach younger children about the scientific methodology and application of our iGEM project to promote the importance of science. Additionally, to involve those who may be more interested in the design and aesthetic of science promotion, we’ve included plushies and felt pattern cutouts. For young adults, an educational board game was designed to depict the complexity of coral reef ecology and humanitarian impacts. Educational content was also included, directly targeting more mature individuals who wish to learn more about the basics of synthetic biology with details about what we have done in the scientific field. It was originally planned to have these packages physically, however, with ongoing COVID situations this became difficult. However, in the spirit of making science more accessible, we have pushed ourselves to render a completely online version. Read more about our Education and Communication activities.

Excellence in Another Area: Inclusivity

The lack of community perspective and a diversity in voices has been a lacking field in scientific studies. Especially when these scientific issues are focused on tackling larger environmental issues, we tend to see a hyperfixation on the solution at hand with ill consideration on how the populace feels. Having seen this issue during the initial stages of our research, we wanted to incorporate a range of voices into our project. To do this, we reached out to artists in communities around the Great Barrier Reef, with specific focus on the Traditional Owners of the land. We wanted to ensure that our project was completely respectful of their cultural and spiritual values, whilst communicating this to an international audience through a Virtual Exhibition. This smaller effort would allow us to define our project goals as necessary by a larger majority of Australians instead of just the scientific community. Read about our approach to increasing Inclusivity in science, and view our Virtual Exhibition.