Who we are
We are 13 interdisciplinary students of the RWTH Aachen, which participate in this year's iGEM competition. The International Geneticlly Engineered Machine Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization committed to promoting synthetic biology and hosts the world's largest competition in this field. The goal is to solve local and global challenges while pushing the boundaries of synthetic biology.
What we do
We address a medical issue that has gained tremendous importance in past decades: the diagnosis of melatonin under- and overproduction. Melatonin is primarily known as a sleep hormone. However, as the endocrine research reveals, melatonin regulates all aspects of human physiology: day-night cycle, immune function, hormone release, muscle growth and reproduction are some of the many physiological properties that melatonin regulates.
Our innovative approach solves the problems of the current melatonin measurement. An enormous cost reduction and an immediate, easy-to-use measurement instead of a complex, expensive laboratory measurement distinguish our idea. In addition, our project has the potential to revolutionize the diagnostics of many other hormones.
Underproduction of melatonin is primarily associated with sleep disorders. However, melatonin also plays an essential role in neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson‘s disease), mental disorders (depression, schizophrenia) and fibromyalgia. Melatonin has anti-inflammatory properties by reducing reactive oxygen species, thereby protecting mitochondria. Currently, melatonin is measured with a method called ELISA which uses antibodies. This method is very expensive, making melatonin measurement a costly diagnostic method. Our mission is to provide a faster, cheaper and non-invasive method.
By implementing a melatonin-sensitive receptor in a modified yeast cell, we are already able to measure melatonin levels. Because living cells are associated with intensive care, our ultimate goal is a cell-free solution that is easy to use. This novel cell-free approach will use a highly sensitive method called Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance (LSPR). Binding of a melatonin-sensitive protein to a DNA sequence immobilized on a nanoparticle surface affects the refractive index. Smallest differences in refractive index can be detected by a change in optical absorption. Since the change in absorption occurs in the visible wavelength range, we can use a conventional smartphone camera as a sensor. For the realization of the hardware, we need financial support. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on donations.