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In Photo: Harsheel Soin, Yogesh Lakhotia, Roshan Satapathy and G Sriram Bharath in their lab at IIT Kharagpur. 

By A Newsman

Kolkata, 18 September: A TEAM of biotech students from IIT Kharagpur in Bengal will be participating in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition that kicks off in Boston on 24 September.

The team is going to the international event with a set of specially developed genetically engineered bacteria that can detect such food spoilage which are otherwise difficult to notice through naked eyes, smell or touch. This can particularly prove helpful in detecting spoilage of loose or packed dairy products, they claim.

This will be the first time that IIT Kharagpur will be participating in this competition of worldwide fame. IIT Delhi, IIT Madras and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (Pune) are the three other participants from India.

iGEM competition is the most prestigious event worldwide for students of synthetic biology. It was started by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2004 as an independent event. The iGEM Foundation founded subsequently in 2012 now manages the annual competition.

This year, around 250 student-led teams have been shortlisted to present their innovations at the iGEM Giant Jamboree that will be underway at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston from 24-28 September. The teams include 104 from Asia, 82 from North America, 20 from Latin America, 72 from Europe and two from Africa.

The five member IIT Kharagpur team, which will be flying to Boston later this week to participate in the competition includes Harsheel Soin, Yogesh Lakhotia, Roshan Satapathy, G Sriram Bharath (all 4th year undergraduate students of biotechnology) and their project instructor professor Agneyo Ganguly.

They are part of a 17-member student group at IIT Kharagpur, which is involved in the designing of genetically engineered bacteria that can sense the concentration of other food spoiling bacteria in eatables and manifest this through a colour pigment.

“Bacteria often communicate with each other through quorum sensing, where the communication is made through certain signal molecules that freely diffuse into the environment. Research shows the possibility of the involvement of quorum sensing in food spoilage,” explained Jugal Mohapatra, a member of the team. “We aim to make genetically engineered bacteria that sense the concentration of other food spoiling bacteria and express a colour pigment,”

The project instructor professor Ganguly said: “Microbes can sense microbes better; the project under progress involves using bacterial quorum sensing to develop an easy way of detecting food spoilage. We aim to develop a user friendly kit for detection of food spoilage using genetically engineered microbes: taking technology from lab to kitchen.”

The kit can be in the form of a bunch of paper strips or a small bottle of liquid that one can use as a home tool to detect food spoilage.