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iNANO students win biodesign competition at Harvard University

Five Bachelor’s degree students from the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (iNANO), Aarhus University, won the BIOMOD Grand Prize in the international BIOMOD Design Competition at Harvard University with their design of a new type of nanomedicine.

2011.11.14 | Lisbeth Heilesen

The winning Danish team – Danish Nano Artists – consists of (from left): Anders Okholm, Ebbe Sloth Andersen, Rasmus Schøler Sørensen, Steffen Lynge Sparvath, Irene Maria Hansen, Hans Christian Høiberg, Mie Elholm Birkbak, Mette Jepsen and Jens Vogensen Biasevich.Pictured from left are: Jens Vogensen Biasevich, Irene Maria Hansen, Mie Elholm Birkbak, Steffen Lynge Sparvath and Hans Christian Høiberg.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at the prestigious Harvard University in the USA recently held the inaugural international biomolecular design competition for students. During the summer, twenty-one undergraduate teams from America, Europe and Asia completed biomolecular design projects, which were presented and judged in the final competition in Boston on Saturday 5 November 2011.

The Danish team – Danish Nano Artists – won the Best Presentation and their total combined score led to winning the Grand Prize as well, where the project idea, experiments and presentation were judged by a panel of international experts. The winning Danish team consisted of Mie Elholm Birkbak, Irene Maria Hansen, Jens Vogensen Biasevich, Hans Christian Høiberg and Steffen Lynge Sparvath. In addition to the honour of winning, the team came home with a prize of USD 1,200 sponsored by the Wyss Institute and the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering (ISNSCE).

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Accompanying the Danish Nano Artists on their trip to Boston were their mentors Anders Okholm, Mette Jepsen and Rasmus Schøler Sørensen, and their supervisor Ebbe Sloth Andersen. The trip was sponsored by the Lundbeck Foundation and the Vilhelm Kier Foundation, as well as iNANO and the Centre for DNA Nanotechnology (CDNA) at Aarhus University, where a major part of the pioneer work in geometric folding of DNA nanostructures took place.

Bachelor’s project led to new nanomedicine

The Danish team demonstrated that an RNA sequence normally used in cells to code for the synthesis of proteins can be designed so that it makes up the scaffold in a box-like structure. Their innovation was to design the structure itself as both a drug carrier and as an active therapeutic agent, with RNA molecules that can effectively block the synthesis of a specific protein involved in a disease process, for example.

The project came about as a joint Bachelor’s project at Professor Jørgen Kjems’ laboratory at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics (MBG), under the supervision of Assistant Professor Ebbe Sloth Andersen. The team was also supported by a number of experts from iNANO and CDNA, including Victoria Birkedal, Henrik Birkedal, Jan Skov Pedersen, Manja Behrens, Cristiano L. P. Oliveira, Jesper Bertram Bramsen and Jesper Sejrup Nielsen. In addition, the team was assisted in the production of its wiki pages by MSc student Kenneth Seidenfaden Bøgh, Department of Computer Science.

About the BIOMOD Design Competition

BIOMOD (International Biomolecular Design Competition) is a newly established competition inspired by the successful iGEM competition, which takes place simultaneously at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Here teams of students compete on designing organisms with interesting properties. BIOMOD, on the other hand, focuses on designing biomolecules with new properties and application options.

This line of research has gathered momentum with the latest advances in DNA nanotechnology, where new methods and computer programs have made it child’s play to design DNA in fun and applicable ways. Since 2007, this has been one of the research priority areas at the Centre for DNA Nanotechnology (CDNA).

By taking part in the BIOMOD competition, the students had an opportunity to work with the latest design methods, and it enabled them to contribute with good ideas for developing and applying the latest bionanotechnology.


More information

Assistant Professor Ebbe Sloth Andersen
Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (iNANO) and Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics (MBG), esa@inano.au.dk, +45 4117 8619

Professor Jørgen Kjems
Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (iNANO) and Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics (MBG), jk@mb.au.dk, +45 8942 2686

Text: ST Kommunikation

Public / media, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics