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ZJU-China secures 10th gold medal


In the 2022 iGEM Competition, three teams from Zhejiang University won two gold medals and one silver medal. Among them, the ZJU-China team clinched its dazzling 10th gold medal. Meanwhile, the team was nominated for the Best Biomanufacturing Project, the Best Hardware Award, the Best Measurement Award, and the Best Safety and Security Award in the biomanufacturing track.

Prof. CHEN Ming and Assoc. Prof. YANG Fan at the College of Life Sciences act as instructors for the ZJU-China team, which is comprised of 14 members from 9 schools and colleges, including the College of Life Sciences, the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the College of Agriculture and Biotechnology. The team is divided into two labs: The Wet Lab is responsible for biological experiments and the Dry Lab is responsible for hardware, software, modeling and web design.

In this year’s competition, the ZJU-China team was dedicated to relic restoration. “This is a brand new track for us,” said SU Yuyan, captain of the team and a senior student from the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “We want to break conventional boundaries and tap into the potential of the team.” However, no team member had any academic background related to relic restoration. The whole team had to start from scratch. Every member perused relevant literature extensively and shared their creative ideas with others. The whole picture gradually crystalized amid the collision and fusion of inter-disciplinary thoughts. They ultimately made up their mind to conserve relics via biomineralization.

Schematic diagram of project design

Nevertheless, damaged artifacts are often found in harsh environments. This required the team to use Bacillus subtilis instead of E. coli as a substrate organism, for the former is more tolerant of formidable conditions. For lack of experience in culturing Bacillus subtilis, the team again started from scratch. They recorded various data in one experiment after another and little by little, figured out the optimal conditions for the culture and transformation of Bacillus subtilis.

The team introduced carbonic anhydrase genes into engineered Bacillus subtilis so that the modified engineered Bacillus subtilis could synthesize carbonic anhydrase and release carbonate ions, thereby producing CaCO3 precipitation. CaCO3 deposited in the tiny cracks of the cultural relics would play an important role in fixation, adhesion and support. In addition, the team introduced the amorphous calcium carbonate binding protein (ACCBP) to transform amorphous calcium carbonate into calcite with a stable structure and remarkable mechanical strength, thereby addressing the challenges of stone artifact restoration.

The judges were greatly impressed by the novelty of the topic and the ingenuity of the design. They agreed that the ZJU-China team’s project was practically significant, opening up a new avenue for heritage preservation.


Translated and adapted from the Chinese article written by SHEN Hanhui (’24, Spanish)