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Synthetic biology is a rapidly growing field that tries to simplify genes into “biobricks” and use these to push the limits of what is possible in genetic engineering. The Queen's Genetically Engineered Machine Team competes annually at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, one of the largest undergraduate research conferences on the planet. Last year’s project focused on modifying the nematode worm, C. Elegans to chemotax, or seek out and degrade pollutants, such as naphtalene. We have produced genetic constructs with protein receptors from M. musculus, R. norvegicus, and H. sapiens intended to enhance the worm's ability to chemotax towards naphthalene and other pollutants. We also worked on a field bioassay based on fluorescent proteins that will indicate the presence of naphthalene in a soil sample. The goal is to have a population of green fluorescent worms chemotaxing toward and a population of red fluorescent worms chemotaxing away from the napthalene in the soil sample. Finally, we have added the P. putida gene, nahD, to the biobrick registry, which encodes a degradative enzyme as part of a naphthalene catabolic pathway.
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