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UCLan student wins prestigious award

An economics student from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has been successful at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition.

Matthew Birt was part of a team of undergraduate students who bagged two ‘Best Human Practices’ advance awards at the prestigious competition- winning one award in Europe and one in the world championships in the USA.

The team’s project was based around creating a synthetic palm oil by modifying a harmless strain of E.coli. They originally presented their work to a panel of judges at the competition in France, where they not only received an award but an invitation to compete in the world championships in Boston.

Matthew received funding from UCLan to go to the USA and help his team present their project to the judges, which included high-profile professors and a delegate from the United Nations. The team competed with 73 other biology groups to scoop their second award.

Matthew said: “The economic principles which I have learnt as part of my degree were really helpful in creating a ‘human practices’ project which was distinct from the other teams, as they were unlikely to have had an economics student on their team."

Matthew got involved with iGEM when his sister, who was already a member of the team, put his name forward to help with the project.

He added: “All the members of the team were from a science background including my sister, who studies biochemistry. As time went on they realised that the human practices element of the project had more to do with economics than with biology or chemistry. My sister, knowing that I was studying economics, suggested that I was just what the team needed.”

The iGEM competition is the premiere undergraduate synthetic biology competition. Student teams are given a kit of biological parts from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts and, working at their own schools over the summer, they use these parts and new parts of their own design, to build biological systems and operate them in living cells.