Duke Undergraduate International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Team (2016-2017)

The annual iGEM Competition encourages students to work together to solve real-world challenges by building genetically engineered biological systems with standard, interchangeable parts. iGEM projects have several key components: 1) implementation of the design-build-test cycle for synthetic biology in the lab; 2) evaluation of the ethical and societal impacts of the project; and 3) education and dissemination through an iGEM website, local high school student outreach and team representation at the annual international iGEM competition.

The 2016 Duke iGEM Team focused on optimizing the biosynthesis of Taxol in E.coli. Taxol is a chemotherapy drug that is highly efficient in combating multiple forms of cancer via interference with the normal breakdown of microtubules during cell division. There is an increasing demand for the drug, but current production methods do not provide a long-term, sustainable supply.

The team’s research plan consisted of a cloning project and kinetic assays to characterize the system. More efficient synthesis of Taxol will lower the cost of the drug and its production, but this cost is not the only determining factor of accessibility. In order to understand how lowering the cost of drug production will translate into more available treatment, members of Duke iGEM with experience in bioethics, pharmaceutical patent law and economics analyzed and modeled the actual cost of Taxol treatment by taking into account healthcare systems and distribution logistics.

In October 2016, the team presented its completed project at the iGEM Competition’s Giant Jamboree, and received a silver medal.

The Duke iGEM team received a Building with Biology grant from the Museum of Science, Boston, for a student-led outreach event at Duke (“Should We Edit the Genome? When, Why and How Much?”) and for using simple demonstrations, games and toys to teach young children about synthetic biology. Team members volunteered at the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh. The team also received a grant from GenScript to help in the initial order of specific guide sequences to test in two strains of E. coli.


Spring 2016 – Fall 2016

Team Outcomes

Silver medal, iGEM 2016

Project team site

Biosynthesis of Taxol: A Research Plan for Enzyme Optimization and Project Submission for the iGEM Competition

An Overview and Analysis of the Societal Impacts of Taxol Biosynthesis in the United States (Attyat Mayans)

Patenting a New Form of Taxol Fermentation (Neelesh Moorthy)

Collaboration with Gaston Day School (Gastonia, NC) iGEM Team to provide advice and analysis of its project

Should We Edit the Genome? When, Why and How Much? (public event at Perkins Library at Duke University, September 3, 2016, supported by the Museum of Science, Boston)


Shashank Rajkumar

This Team in the News

Duke Seniors Share What Was Most Meaningful about Their Bass Connections Experiences

Duke iGEM Team Awarded Grants for Synthetic Biology Research and Outreach

See photos of this project team on Flickr

See related teams, Duke Undergraduate International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Team (2017-2018) and International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) (2015-2016).

Team Leaders

  • Nicolas Buchler, Arts & Sciences-Biology
  • Charles Gersbach, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering
  • Michael Lynch, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering

/graduate Team Members

  • Eirik Moreb, Biomedical Engineering-PHD
  • Charles Cooper, Biochemistry-PHD
  • Daniel Rodriguez, Biomedical Engineering-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Shashank Rajkumar, Chemistry (BS)
  • Adam Yaseen, Biophysics (BS)
  • Steven Yang, Computer Science (BS)
  • Chunge Wang, Computer Science (AB), Philosophy (AB2)
  • Nisakorn Valyasevi, Computer Science (AB), Biology (BS2)
  • Yueqi (Angie) Shen, Statistical Science (BS)
  • Jaydeep Sambangi, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Zoe Roecker, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Parth Patel, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Neelesh Moorthy, Economics (BS)
  • Emma Miles, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Attyat Mayans, Asian & Mid East Studies (AB), Cultural Anthropology (AB2)
  • Thomas Luo, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Benjamin Hoover, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)