Wageningen University (Netherlands) and Research 2017 iGEM Team participate in the iGEM competition, which is a global competition to tackle real-world problems using synthetic biology. The iGEM competition builds up to the Giant Jamboree at MIT in Boston, where all teams come together to present their project. This year Hamilton Bonaduz AG sponsor our project!

Currently, millions of people are still at risk of tropical diseases, most prominently in undeveloped countries. Examples of these diseases are African Sleeping Sickness, caused by the protozoa Trypanosoma brucei and Zika Fever, caused by the Zika virus. For most tropical diseases treatments are available, but proper diagnosis often is late or is completely lacking. As a consequence these diseases might pose an unnecessary burden to the patient's health, or even result in death that could have easily been prevented. At the moment, there are diagnostics available, but these either require expensive equipment and well-trained personnel, both of which are lacking, or the specificity of the diagnostic is insufficient. On top of this, the available diagnostics often do not reach the people that need them.

Mobile field teams often need to drive hours away from populated areas, where they perform field test. Thus, a rapid and reliable on-site diagnostic is needed to screen patients and give them proper treatment when necessary.

The Wageningen University & Research iGEM team aims to create a diagnostic tool to screen for tropical diseases according to these needs. The bacterium Escherichia coli will be used to detect disease markers in a blood sample, and create a visual signal when these markers are present. This signal can be seen by using UV-light. Living cells are high-tech machines that can grow and multiply under simple conditions and at low cost. In this way, advanced technology can easily be made available to all.

Our goal is to reprogram simple bacteria so that they can detect, interpret, and report on markers of disease. The bacteria will detect disease molecules and generate a visual output.

These cheap bacteria will then become the crucial component of our diagnostic test kit. Such a test can be cheap, easy to operate, and in principle be produced locally. The final diagnostic device will be a modular system that can be adapted to diagnose many different diseases, without any advanced laboratory equipment. Aside of creating this bacterial signal, we will design and 3D-print a handheld device in which samples can be tested. This way, we create a rapid and sensitive diagnostic tool which can easily be taken into the field.

In order to succeed in our project, Hamilton Bonaduz AG sensors and expertise are of great use. For optimal growth of the bacteria we use Hamilton’s pH and DO probes. Furthermore, antigens will be produced using insect cells. In upscale we use Hamilton’s and cell density probes. As a final goal, we hope to set up a network of bioreactors with our bacteria in them all over Africa, meaning production of diagnostics can be done locally.

If you are interested and want to know more, please visit our website www.wur.eu/igem!