The Missouri S&T iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) student design team uses synthetic biology to solve real-world problems. As an interdisciplinary design team under the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center, we participate in the annual iGEM competition, the Giant Jamboree, in Boston, Massachusetts. Undergraduates from a variety of majors devise creative approaches to genetic education and research while forming connections and having fun.
Bats play a vital role in the ecosystems across the globe. In the United States alone, they save billions of dollars every year by eating insects that would otherwise be controlled by noxious pesticides. A fatal epidemic threatening many bat populations has recently appeared, however, and there is no superhero to save them. White Nose Syndrome is spreading across the country and millions of bats have already died. The disease – caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans that preys on hibernating bats, has recently infected the local Missouri cave systems. Fungal spores are carried from cave to cave on humans, putting entire species in danger of extinction because of White Nose Syndrome. With our current project, we aim to protect bats from this deadly disease.
Traditional responses to fungal infections, namely fungicides, indiscriminately kill beneficial and harmful fungi, while providing strong evolutionary pressure for resistance. We are instead exploring a volatile organic compound from fungistatic soils, ocimene, which has been shown to slow fungal growth. We are also investigating ways to sense P. destructans to impact the cave environment as little as possible, and compounds that may inhibit metabolism of the bats’ skin. Our hope is that by slowing growth of the fungus, we can defend bats from the disease and give them a chance to recover after hibernation.
How You Can Help:
With your donations, the team will be able to send representatives to the Giant Jamboree in Boston, Massachusetts, to present our project. We have been working diligently in the lab to bring the project to fruition, but getting to competition is our main obstacle. Your donation will cover the team's registration fee and lodging - in the process you will be helping our team bring back more ideas that will serve to improve future projects and also bring awareness to White Nose Syndrome.
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Credit: iGEM Foundation and Justin Knight