Illustration by Shenuka Corea

iGem Golden Medal

iGEM NYUAD developed a device to detect E. coli within 20 minutes which led to winning the Gold Medal.

Feb 17, 2018

On Nov. 13, 2017, the International Genetically Engineered Machine team at NYU Abu Dhabi won the Gold Medal during its third participation at the Giant Jamboree event in Boston, MA. The Giant Jamboree showcases the products from the annual iGEM Competition. Led by Adrienne Chang and Khairunnisa Semesta, both Class of 2018, the team won the medal for the project E.coLamp, a portable device that is capable of detecting E. coli, a bacteria that normally lives in intestines. The device can detect E. coli in only 20 minutes using a technique called loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or LAMP.
“This is the third year we participated in the Giant Jamboree in Boston. In 2015, we got a Bronze medal. In 2016, the NYUAD team participated with a similar project to E.coLAMP but it was unsuccessful. Professor Raphael Song worked on it and we kind of continued it. With the progress made, we were able to get the golden medal,” said Semesta.
For the project to succeed, NYUAD’s iGem team, composed of 13 student members, had to work hard. Chang and Semesta emphasized the importance of faculty support during the process.
“We received lots of support from the faculty. Professors at the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at NYUAD and professors who were not even affiliated with our project were willing to listen and give us feedback,” said Chang.
The team leaders shared similar thoughts on their ups and downs.
“Scheduling was hard. We had different timetables. Also, we had so many ideas at first. We kind of had to be mindful of what works and what doesn’t. After all, we only had six months to develop a project,” said Semesta.
“Our project was very enjoyable though, it was great figuring out what to do next. We bonded and got to know more engineers. It was frustrating at times, but when something finally works at 2:00 a.m. in the lab, everyone becomes relieved,” added Semesta.
The iGem team at NYUAD also tried to connect to the outside community as part of their social commitment to promote the sciences.
“We invited high school students on [to] campus and introduced them to the lab environment. This was part of our social good. Our iGem research also consisted of taking part in outreach projects to engage the outside community,” said Semesta.
The potential of E.coLamp is significant to the domain of sciences, biology and disease detection. Not only is the device able to detect E.coli, it can also be adapted for different purposes.
“Our device can be adapted to detect different bacteria or virus infections with a specific DNA sequence. It is able to detect pathogens carrying a similar kind of little flag,” said Semesta.
The success of E.coLamp will definitely contribute to disease detection. In fact, the NYUAD team is aiming to develop this project into a startup.
“We submitted our project to StartAD to turn this into a startup. We were hesitant about getting outside sponsorship because there might be some conflict of interest,” said Semesta.
“Our dream is to turn E.coLamp into an available product, something people can use. We are trying to enter the Abu Dhabi University Competition with this project. We encourage people to join us if they would like to help develop this project. Hopefully, we can win a cash prize,” added Chang.
Currently, iGEM NYUAD is opening applications for its fourth team. It is hoping to get students from different fields to prepare for a fourth participation.
“We’re starting to accept applications next week. Graphic design or computer scientists shouldn’t be intimidated. Freshmen are especially encouraged to apply,” concluded Chang.
Hind Ait Mout is News Editor. Email her at
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