Written by Val Osowski

Michigan State University’s International Genetically Engineered Machines team won a silver medal in this year’s iGEM competition in Boston.

The team of seven students comes from diverse areas, including chemical engineering, biochemistry and molecular biology, and animal science; they range from a graduating senior, to a high school student who’s planning to attend MSU.

Motivated by the Flint water crisis, the team developed new technology for water testing: a biosensor for detecting dangerous contaminants and responding with an electric signal. Based on this ability to find “clues” in the water, the project was dubbed “Shewlock Holmes.” The name is also a nod to the microbe the students engineered, a bacterium called “Shewanella oneidensis,” which can transport electrons across its membranes.

After successfully demonstrating that the genetically engineered “Shewlock” could detect and report hydrogen peroxide, the next steps in the lab aimed at making the measurement system smaller, more affordable and sensitive to a broader range of contaminants.

iGEM is a competition that brings together students from around the world to design a biological solution for some of humanity’s toughest problems. Recruiting for the fully funded spots on the 2018 team begins in January.