Green Challenge: a giant party of innovative ideas

“You walk out the end when you get old, you wanna be able to say, that was worth doing. That’s a good thing to do.”
- Randy Rettberg, President of International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM)

I am a MSc Medicine and Technology student at DTU. I chose this study line because I want to help people who suffer but do not give up.

My sub-specialization has high emphasis in programming and statistical analysis, and with this skill set, I made it into DTU’s student-run synthetic biology team called BioBuilders. We design and engineer a biological machine to benefit humanity.

People usually think that synthetic biology is exclusively biotechnology majors - not true. DTU’s BioBuilders team takes aboard students from diverse educational backgrounds, including biotechnology, environmental engineering, bioinformatics, mathematics and medicine and technology. It was also with BioBuilders that I attended the Green Challenge (Grøn Dyst) competition, here at DTU.

The Green Challenge (Grøn Dyst) is an annual student projects conference/competition run by DTU, attracting over 100 projects and concepts, from DTU and partner university students. Personally, I see it more as a conference than a competition - it wasn't the prizes (thousands of kroner btw.), but the celebration of ideas that attracts me the most. The Green Challenge is one giant party of innovative ideas, each in its uniquely creative way, solves a sustainability problem. Being able to attend the Green Challenge filled me with inspiration and it was a great feeling being a part of a community that cares about our planet as much as economy.

What made our team qualify for the Green Challenge? Synthetic biology - It means to engineer biological machines or systems to do useful things. My team - the BioBuilders, genetically engineered a yeast and transformed it into a waste-eating superhero that at the same time bio-synthesizes medicine. The core of our project is to make a molecular toolbox, that future researchers can use to genetically engineer any organism and insert any gene of their choices. You can say we made the tools to make cell-factories. The success of this project proves that we can relieve the environmental waste problem, because our genetically modified yeast literally feeds on waste. We also designed and inserted genes so our yeast can produce insulin and Beta-Carotene. As today’s biotechnology rely on sugar as substrate for biosynthesizing medicine, our yeast is able to use industrial and household waste instead, thus saving the sugar for use as a food source.

We submitted a written project abstract and registered for the Green Challenge. The week before the Challenge, our team formulated a two-minute pitch and design an A0-sized poster summarizing our project. One of our teammates was decided to be the speaker for the day, and he practiced the pitch until perfect. The night before the big day, we attended the pitch workshop hosted at the DTU library, where we learned a lot about public speaking techniques, tones of voice, body language and how to invite the audience in.

Before the day began, the teams set up their stands, hoisted up posters and staged the props and multi-media presentations in the DTU Library. The Green Challenge officially started with a welcome speech by the Dean and Chairman at DTU. Then the teams of judges went stand by stand to listen to pitches and score the projects. The judges included scientists, professors, politicians, industry experts and students. We presented three rounds to different judging teams. Each time we pitched, we learned something about presentation, but the most valuable lesson we learned about pitching, was to drop the fancy intro and just make our points as simply as possible. It was a good training for future presentations, as we learned what worked and not, and we have mentally acquainted ourselves with the nerves and thrills of pitching. During our off-times I walked around and visited other projects. The amazing projects ranged widely from cell factories to submarines; from modelling of global warming to edible insects, the library was transformed into a museum, except the master pieces are made by students just like me. I felt very inspired and motivated to do well in life.

The day ended with the announcement of winners, presented by the Korean ambassador. I remember the humorous dialogues between the ambassador and the Dean were full of metaphors and puns. One metaphor, I think, summed up the Green Challenge: it is a musical concert. Each project is a member of the orchestra, each plays a part. The winners are the solo pieces. But missing any member, the concert wouldn’t have been the same. We are all important, we are all winners.

We didn’t win any money. But we went away with invaluable experience, and memory of a great day of presenting and hanging out with teammates. We topped the day off with a real concert and bbq in the sun at the DTU garden, and we laid on the grass until dusk.

BioBuilders - a 16-student strong project team, has gone on sponsored trips to conferences in Stockholm and Paris. We will also present at the international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition. The iGEM competition is the world’s biggest synthetic biology competition and runs annually. If you are keen, definitely keep an eye out for this year’s BioBuilders recruitment events in November. A common theme I experience at Green Challenge and with the BioBuilders team, is that of collaboration and sharing of ideas. It’s what science should be! BioBuilders has collaborated with other universities' synthetic biology teams, and our project will be totally open source. Developing together as a team, and experiencing the project from start to end taught us invaluable lessons, and formed bullet-biting friendships. The engineers that understand the spirit of community are the engineers that do wonders. 

‘’If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’’
-Genesis 11:6-7

Baocheng, MSc in Medicine and Technology (Biomedical Engineering), China