Competition Spurs Genetics Research Students at Pitt, Carnegie Mellon Preparing Presentations

By Polke, Clarece | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 29, 2014 | Go to article overview

Competition Spurs Genetics Research Students at Pitt, Carnegie Mellon Preparing Presentations


Polke, Clarece, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Students at the University of Pittsburgh are trying to discover a cure for common acne using a not-so-common tool: facial bacteria.

An eight-member team of undergraduate student researchers is studying a common bacterium that lives deep in the skin and survives on oil produced in the face but also is a component of healthy skin. Their goal is to produce a probiotic with the bacterium that will help combat acne.

"We felt like there was a really big need for it," said Stephen Kita, a recent bioengineering graduate and team founder. "Who hasn't experienced acne at some point or another? This has the potential to impact or help a lot of people."

The team is preparing to compete with thousands of students from around the world, including a team from Carnegie Mellon, at this year's International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in October.

The team raised its own funds for the synthetic biology competition costs and lab materials through a crowd funding website, many of the donations coming from friends, family members and supportive faculty and staff at the university and totaling about $1,900.

"Everyone who knows about it is really excited about it," Mr. Kita said. "The nice thing is that this is really collaborative, so competition coordinators really encourage us working together. Even though it's our first year, we've had a lot of support from the other teams, so we're pretty confident we can do well."

The founder of CMU's iGEM team, Natasa Miskov-Zivanov, mentored Mr. Kita and helped him establish a team at Pitt.

While this will be Pitt's first year participating in the competition, CMU's seven-member team will be returning to the competition for the third year in a row. The team's project includes detecting high levels of estrogen in wastewater, which can lower the number of male fish and have a rippling effect on the entire ecosystem.

Student brainstorming sessions went on for weeks before they picked a topic said Cheryl Telmer, one of the team's faculty advisers.

More than 20 students submitted resumes and one-page statements of interest before the final team members were chosen in the spring. …

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