CBMS330: iGEM – SynBio – Biomolecular Sciences Capstone Unit

Students majoring in Biomolecular Sciences focus on the study of how molecules work in living organisms. Towards the end of their degree, students must complete CBMS330 – the capstone unit of the Biomolecular Major. A major component of the CBMS330 capstone unit is that students participate in iGEM – the international Genetically Engineered Machine competition. iGEM is the premier undergraduate competition for undergraduate research in Synthetic Biology and the only kind in the world!


Macquarie University CBMS330 Biomolecular Major students first participated in iGEM in 2010 with a small team of six students. Mentored by three academics from the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences, the students were successful in obtaining a Bronze medal at the Jamboree event held at MIT. Since then, CBMS330 have entered a team every year and consistently been the top performing Australian team. Together, our Macquarie University CBMS330 students have been awarded the following medals and prizes:

2010: Bronze Medal

2011: Silver Medal

2012: Silver Medal & Advanced to World Championships

2013: Silver Medal, Special Award “Best Poster” & “Best Mascot” (25 students)

2014: GOLD MEDAL!! (12 students)

Macquarie_Australia 2014: Photophyll – The Green Machine: Re-engineering the chlorophyll biosynthetic pathway in E. coli

Photosynthesis is a key biological pathway that uses the energy from sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide into ATP, glucose and oxygen. Chlorophyll is a green pigment that facilitates energy production in photosynthetic organisms. Our goal is to engineer 13 genes of the chlorophyll biosynthetic pathway (CBP) from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to be expressed in E. coli. Although the CBP has been well characterised by biologists there has been no success in reproducing the process in a non-photosynthetic host. Successful production of chlorophyll in a bacterial host is the first step towards the synthetic construction of Photosystem II leading to industrial production of Hydrogen gas for energy production.


Macquarie_Australia 2013: Green is the new black – Expression of Chlorophyll within Escherichia coli


Project: Photosynthesis is a key biological pathway that uses sunlight energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into ATP, glucose and oxygen. Chlorophyll is a green pigment that facilitates this energy production in photosynthetic organisms. Although the biosynthesis pathway for chlorophyll has been thoroughly investigated, the reproduction of this pathway in a non-photosynthetic organism has, to date, not been achieved. Successful production of chlorophyll in a bacterial host is the first step towards the synthetic construction of photosystem II, and the eventual creation of a renewable energy source. Our research involves expression of twelve genes (from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) necessary for the chlorophyll biosynthesis pathway in a bacterial host (E. coli). Gene sequences have been synthetically designed to allow for prokaryotic expression. By utilising Gibson assembly, we plan on being able to successfully produce chlorophyll in prokaryotic cells. This will be evident from the growth of green E. coli colonies.

 Macquarie_Australia 2012: Flick of the Switch – Employing light-sensitive bacteriophytochromes to control gene expression

Project: Phytochromes, or photoreceptors with the ability to control the expression of genes, exist in bacteria as bacteriophytochromes. This project creates a light-dependent biological switch using the bacteriophytochromes from Deinococcus radiodurans and Agrobacterium tumefaciens. When coupled with heme oxygenase, these bacteriophytochromes are supplied with biliverdin, a pigment which allows for the self-assembly of a switch within the host system. In the presence of red light, the conformation of the bacteriophytochrome is modified. This reaction produces a visible colour change in the presence of red light, and can be used to control expression of a targeted gene when coupled with the appropriate response regulator. Exposure to far-red light will cause the bacteriophytochrome to revert to its original conformation, thus repressing the gene and reversing the colour change.

 Macquarie_Australia 2011: Switch-a-roo: engineering a photoresponsive ‘E.colight switch’

Project: Photoreceptors are ubiquitous proteins that allow an organism to sense light. These proteins have evolved in unique environments to sense light intensity in different colour ranges. This experiment focuses on constructing a biological switch that uses two photoreceptors from separate organisms — Deinococcus radiodurans and Agrobacterium tumafaciens. The coupling of heme oxygenase supplies our photoreceptor proteins with biliverdin, allowing for the self-assembly of the switch within host systems. The switch is the first stage of a two component light sensor and when expressed at high level, there is a noticeable colour change of the cell when it is activated by light.

Macquarie_Australia 2010: Engineering a Bacteriophytochrome switch – creating a controllable E. coli chameleon

Project: Photoreceptors are utilized by almost every organism to adapt to their ambient light environment. Our aim is to engineer a novel, reversible molecular ‘light switch’ within E. coli by introducing a photoreceptor from non-photosynthetic bacteria (Deinococcus radiodurans and Agrobacterium tumafaciens). By cloning the bacteriophytochrome coupled with heme- oxygenase, an enzyme producing biliverdin, the created colonies are able to respond to red and far-red light environments. This novel approach will result in the colour of E. coli to ‘switch’ from blue to green reversibly. Our E. coli chameleon will serve as a fundamental ‘bio-brick’ for future applications by providing a simple and photo-reversible switch.

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