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Synthetic biology: a formidable frontier


Magnificent structures visible from the lunar surface have been built, skies that define the horizons have been conquered, distances that separated races have been shriveled, computations that took hours have been eradicated; all these have been achieved through the acumen, knowledge and skill of engineering. Now, scientists are tapping into the vast power held in cells of biological organisms through this very tool of engineering. We call this novel and mighty science synthetic biology. This new field is basically the genetic engineering of organisms but with new tools and techniques that make it much easier and faster to genetically manipulate organisms. The essence of synthetic biology is to make the engineering of biological systems easier to do. It enables us to better understand nature and subsequently manipulate it to make the world a better place through better healthcare, greener environments and more efficient industries.

iGEM: a pillar of synthetic biology

International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) in an annual undergraduate synthetic biology competition. It encourages students from universities all over to use synthetic biology to solve problems affecting today’s world. The students are required to design and build novel biological systems and operate them in living cells.

With a myriad of magnificent teams (over 160) that stem from universities scattered well across the globe, IGEM is truly a world class competition.

Team Nairobi: creating new paths

Team Nairobi is the first team from Kenya and the fourth from Africa to take part in iGEM.

This is just the beginning.Expect only much more participation from many more teams from this region.

The Team

Some members of Team Nairobi

Team Nairobi is composed of undergraduates as well as faculty members from the University of Nairobi.

The undergrads

2 microbiology and biotechnology students
1 biology student
3 biochemistry students
1 human physiology student who is also a medicine student
1 medicine student who is also an anatomy graduate
1 electrical engineering student

The supervisors

3 faculty members of the University of Nairobi Chiromo Campus

A brief description of what we are working on

Pests cause a great loss to major agricultural products and various useful plants every year. Currently, chemicals are the main means used to curb the near catastrophic effects of pests. However, their use results in the destruction of ecosystems, underground water-contamination, increased toxins in agricultural products and the prevalence of highly resistant pests. Drastic efforts taken to curb the aforementioned problems include the signing of agreements among various countries in order to reduce the use of the organic pesticides by as much as 50%. However, the ‘green’ mode of action, sustainability, and cost effective nature of most bio-pesticides, makes them the favoured frontier in the war against crop pests.

Our project involves the invention of a novel biopesticide by genetically engineering an entomopathogenic fungus to come up with a strain that exhibits higher levels of insecticidal activity, and that is effective against a wider range of insects. The constant target species are crop pests and house pests.