TAS iGEM Awarded 7th Consecutive Gold Medal

By Lindsey Kundel, Director of Communications & Marketing

The TAS 2021 iGEM team has done it again, winning their seventh consecutive gold medal and a record number of additional award nominations at the Giant Jamboree held remotely on November 13. 

Out of 94 high school and corporate teams, the TAS team ("TAS_Taipei") was recognized as a top 10 iGEM team globally. The team was also nominated for 11 out of 13 additional awards, including wins in "Best Wiki", "Best Model," and "Best Sustainability." The team was also awarded the coveted "iGEMers prize," awarded to the best high school team as voted upon by their peers.

The TAS iGEM team is advised by Director and Chair of Scientific Research, Mr. Jude Clapper, Synthetic Biology Teacher, Dr. Jonathan Hsu, and Chemistry Teacher, Dr. Nicholas Ward.

The TAS team celebrated their historic performance with a live watch party held on campus in the TAS auditorium. 

“It has been so wonderful to have been able to mentor such an incredibly talented and self-motivated group of young minds," said Dr. Hsu. "During our celebratory watch party, you could really see the students’ passion for their project, which is a culmination of over 10 months of hard work.”

Each year's iGEM team is composed of students in Grades 11 and 12 who enroll in the course Honors Research in synthetic biology, which is co-taught by Hsu and Clapper across two different class periods. 

This year's team was led by Project Heads Yvonne K. ('22) and Enoch T. ('22).

Their project is called "UniversO," an enzymatic system that the team developed that converts A and B blood types to the universal donor O-type blood, thereby eliminating patient/donor incompatibility. Due to COVID restrictions, the team worked throughout the summer at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University and throughout the first semester this year on the TAS campus to test their experiments and ideas. After designing DNA that codes for the enzymes that cut the A and B antigens, the students successfully expressed and purified each enzyme.  They even showed that their enzymes cut A antigens in pigs blood, which was used as a proof of concept for their project. The team also interviewed medical, marketing, and policy experts to seek guidance about how to implement their project in real life. 

Upper School principal Mr. Andrew Lowman says that he is "thrilled" for the 35 participating students and three faculty members, calling this project "truly incredible" to witness.

TAS has taken part in the global iGEM competition for the last eight years, seven of which have earned the school a gold medal and three Grand Prize Awards. Mr. Clapper says that this year's team, however, is particularly special and that they put together a "truly spectacular performance," even by TAS standards. “The quality of research is so high this year that programs such as the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood have contacted us to learn about our research findings.  The students even discussed their experimental, prototype, and modeling results with the Lifeblood researchers in order to find a place to incorporate their research in the blood donation and processing supply chain.  These high school researchers are making a real-life impact, right now.”

Mr. Dave Iverson, upper school science department chair, says that he is not surprised by the achievements of these "rock star" researchers. "We have a well-oiled machine in scientific research that just keeps on plugging along and winning awards," he said. "It seems every year that we have a great project, and every year there is something special about the team that represents another part of TAS." 

Mr. Iverson also jokingly mentioned that the school might need to invest in a new trophy case if things continue in this vein.

As part of the team's outreach initiatives, the team also created a free educational program focusing on synthetic biology, a combination of molecular biology and engineering principles. The website they created includes activity packets and resources in both English and Mandarin Chinese.

Want to know more about this incredible project? Be sure to check out the 2021 TAS_Taipei iGEM website here to read the team's abstract, view the prototype, and much more!

iGEM stands for Internationally Genetically Engineered Machine and is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology. The iGEM foundation hosts the iGEM competition, an annual academic competition aimed at improving peoples’ understanding of synthetic biology while also developing an open community and collaboration between groups. It is by far the most renowned synthetic biology competition for students. The competition began in 2004 and now has over 300 teams competing from locations around the world. The various teams all aim to design and engineer a new method of improving using synthetic biology. Projects range from improving the environment to producing new medicines or materials to colonizing other planets.