CCA students recognized in iGEM competition

The CCA team won gold for the first time in the school's seven years competing.

A group of students at Canyon Crest Academy were recognized for a project they completed for an International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation competition.

“The premise of the competition is to use synthetic biology to solve some sort of problem,” said Chris Jung, 17, a junior at CCA and co-president of a group of 25 students who entered the competition. “Most often this is some sort of global or local problem that’s affecting a community or something team members are passionate about.”

The CCA team won a gold medal, the school’s first since it began competing seven years ago, and a Best Education prize.

“This year we took a different approach and did something more biology-oriented,” Jung said. “We’re interested in the field of biofabrication, which is making basic materials from bacterial expression, and this year we decided to do collagen. So making the collagen protein from bacteria. In the end we chose yeast as our host organism. So our final project became expressing this bacterial protein called Scl2 into yeast in order to make biomedical therapeutics like artificial skin grafts and blood vessels and things of that sort that can be used by a lot more researchers in the future.”

She added that the final product, CollaGene, “displaces ethical and environmental concerns and reduces the risk of zoonotic diseases by diverting production from bovine sources and creating a highly modifiable collagen template.”

For the project, the group held a local summer program and surveyed more than 200 participants.

The iGEM Foundation is a nonprofit based in Massachusetts that promotes the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, as well as open community and collaboration, according to its website.

The competition, which took place over about 10 days last month, included high schools and colleges.

“It was very euphoric,” Jung said of CCA’s awards, “because it’s been a long year and a lot of trials and tests of our patience and teamwork, and a lot of late nights spent at the lab or spent planning. Seeing that hard work come to fruition was a bit of a surprise.”

Jung added that the group wants to do more work that involves reaching out to the community.

“We really want to engage with our community more and see how we can adjust our needs and our values or what we are working on to align with community values, and trying to help our community more through different educational resources,” she said.