Nicolas Delettre, Gaétan Christien, and Thomas Lhernould
Each year since its creation by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2004, the number of teams taking place in the iGEM synthetic biology contest has grown.
The international competition has particular importance in France, where teams receive government support and grants in order to promote research and make science more interesting for lay audiences.
IONIS Education Group will be sending its student team to the competition this year with a concept aimed at improving crop resistance to extreme temperatures.
The team has developed a novel prototype for a temperature-activated crop protecting compound that would activate different chemical reactions to respond to different weather conditions. One type of compound would be only be produced below freezing, and another will only be produced at temperatures high enough to harm crops. The prototype is called SofterShock and is in the testing stage.
The chemical reactions depends on the changing shape of certain molecules in response to weather conditions, which relies on RNA modeling. RNA is notoriously difficult to model through normal modeling methods, however. The team therefore decided to use computer-based modeling methods to simulate, analyze and design the structure of the molecules used in their prototype.
The students in the team, Nicolas Delettre, Gaétan Christien, and Thomas Lhernould, said that although they want to create an excellent prototype, their long-term goal is to “understand the factors that determine the optimal interactions between the different molecules in [our] plasmids and ribosomes”, and contribute to scientific knowledge of molecule interactions by publishing their findings in a scientific journal. This would be valuable because the detailed structures of their RNA molecules are unknown.
“Our work and publication in this area could demonstrate the utility of molecular modeling and make it more accessible to others teams”, they said in a statement.