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'Space Moss' group got key nominations in Boston

Efforts of Copenhagen students rewarded with nominations and gold medal at the prestigious iGEM competition in the United States

University of Copenhagen (UCPH) students have taken two category nominations and a gold medal at a prestigious competition in Boston, United States.

The UCPH team this year was called Space Moss and projected genetically modified green moss for medicine or food on a future permanent human outpost on the planet Mars. The iGEM competition is a global student competition in Synthetic Biology. The Copenhagen team are attempting to modify the moss to make it produce an antifreeze gene to resist the extreme cold on Mars.

“It is the nominations that are the most important for us,” explains Christina Toldbo, a physics master’s student at the University of Copenhagen, who talked to the University Post after catching up with some sleep on the plane home. The team got two nominations, one in ‘Best Composite Part’, the other in ‘Best Environment Project’.

Christina Toldbo: “When you try to send humans to another planet you need to simulate all the complex systems, and as soon as you go into the details you are effectively doing environment science..

Cool biology, complex systems

‘Best Composite Part’ is a category for biological components submitted to a shared data bank. Here Copenhagen’s Space Moss was one of five nominated out of 259 teams.

“Every team submits their bio bricks to the shared data bank. This category was first and foremost a recognition of us doing some really cool biology,” Christina explains to the University Post.

The other nomination was in environmental science, where the team was one of four nominees out of 259.

“When you try to send humans to another planet you need to simulate all the complex systems, and as soon as you go into the details you are effectively doing environment science, so we also chose this category to compete in,” says Christina Toldbo. The team also won one of several gold medals for their overall performance.

Proud of the team

The team was made up of molecular biology, biomedicine, astrophysics, and organisation students, explains Nanna Heinz a coordinator at the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

“What is important to stress is that they have had to find, fundraise, and do the outreach for their own project,” says Nanna Heinz.

“iGEM is more than the science itself; it’s like working as an bio-entrepreneur: Setting a common goal, driving the project, doing teamwork across science, business and innovation, fundraising and outreach. They have to perform well on all parameters to get Gold,” added Nanna Heinz.

“We are so proud of this team. They have performed extremely well given the short time and high expectations. It been a joy to follow them”.

NASA interested

The students will now make a decision on what the future will bring to the project, says Christina Toldbo. The team will not be allowed to compete at iGEM again, but can be supervisors.

“We are meeting tomorrow Wednesday and catching up with everyone who was not at the jamboreee. Here we will discuss whether we will continue. A representative from NASA showed interest in it, for example, and the project seems very promising. We will look at our possibilities and see how far we can go,” she says.

universitypost@adm.ku.dk

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