ALMA — The Alma College iGEM team continued its run of excellence at the iGEM Grand Jamboree, in Paris, France, Nov. 2-5, taking home a gold medal and being nominated for a “Village Award.”

“The Grand Jamboree is already an incredible event. You’re surrounded by hundreds of teams of students from all over the world who are singularly focused on making the world a better place. But for your project to be judged as one of the best — even above some big state universities that are located near Alma — is an indescribable feeling,” said Isabelle Conn, a senior integrative physiology and health science major from Allen Park, Mich.

The nonprofit International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation brought together more than 400 multidisciplinary teams from 60-plus countries this year at its Grand Jamboree, where the future of synthetic biology has been showcased for the past 20 years in order to solve local problems all over the world. Synthetic biology is a field of science that involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities.

For the past two years, the Alma College team have worked to develop a testing solution for a device they created dedicated to detecting DDT — a major pollutant of the local Pine River since the late 1970s. As part of the project, titled “Unraveling a Poisoned River,” the team researched and engineered a way to test red fluorescent proteins using estrogen receptors from a variety of different species. Among the team’s ultimate goals are the creation of an affordable product that could be sold and benefit the local community.

This year brought with it a breakthrough, team members said, as the project was successfully tested. For their efforts, the Alma College team won not only a gold medal, but a nomination for “Best Bioremediation Project,” one of 11 “Village Awards” that were given out, based on discipline.

“This project is a wonderful example of how a team and a community can come together to make a difference in their local environment,” read one judge’s comment. “Their human practices, communicating with various stakeholders and integrating those into the design of their project is well-executed, and they have applied the design principles of synthetic biology.”

Alma has competed at the Grand Jamboree for the past several years, winning a silver medal the past two years and gold in 2020.

The Alma College iGEM team is going through a transition year, members said, with several seniors preparing to graduate in the spring. They encouraged as many students as possible to get involved with the team, regardless of their academic major or plans for after college.

“When I came to Alma, I loved science, but I thought my only path to turning that into a career was through the medical field. Now, I’m aiming to do a PhD program for chemistry, in the hopes of someday eliminating chronic wasting disease,” said MacKenzie Harwood, a senior biochemistry major from Lake Orion, Mich. “I’ve discovered so many open doors through the iGEM club at Alma College. It has changed my entire career path.”

This year’s team members include:

Devin Camenares and Brian Doyle, faculty advisors
Isabelle Conn
Maxim Kraniak
George Amoako
Sophie Dech
Alexa DeKorte
Matthew Hanson
Christina Harbin
Rachel Kostrezewa
Noah Murphy
Sebastian Nolte
Emily Smith
Gabriella Corson
MacKenzie Harwood
Alice Hutchins
Reagan Keyser
Scott Sparks
Rylee Warchuck
Paige Lamoreaux
Allyson Ehlert
Benji Schall