Discover Cobatect, the innovative and vitamin-enriched project by the new IONIS iGEM team!

Discover Cobatect, the innovative and vitamin-enriched project by the new IONIS iGEM team!

Are you familiar with iGEM? It’s the acronym for International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, the largest student competition in the world dedicated to synthetic biology. Comprised of students from the different schools in the IONIS Group, the IONIS iGEM  team  has participated in the competition yearly since 2015, developing innovative projects that are often rewarded for their ingenuity. The new IONIS iGEM team is now working on a cobalamin (vitamin B12) level detection kit called Cobatect, currently the subject of a crowdfunding campaign! Composed of Benjamin Decreusefond and Morgan Vaterkowski (EPITA class of 2022), in addition to students from Sup’Biotech and ESME Sudria, the team has one goal in mind: to stand out at the iGEM finals, which will take place this fall!

As cobalamin is a vitamin only found in food of animal origin (meat, eggs, dairy …), it is not uncommon to see certain individuals who have a particular diet (vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian …) show deficiencies, which can lead to health problems. “Vitamin B12 plays a role in several metabolisms of the human body, such as the synthesis of DNA, RNA or myelin sheath proteins, which surround neurons,” says Quentin Naudin, a 4th year student at Sup’Biotech and project leader. “Cobalamin deficiencies can cause anemia, mild neurological disorders, or even more serious problems, such as hyperhomocysteinemia. Extremely severe deficiencies can lead to thrombosis and neuropathy, but this is quite rare as people with symptoms of anemia or chronic fatigue tend to seek medical attention before they reach that point.”  Based on the students’ research from a variety of different information sources, these deficiencies may affect 13.5 million people in France alone. Hence, the need to address this issue.

Detection, at the heart of the project

This was not always the subject of the 2021 IONIS iGEM project! Indeed, the students first worked on an initial topic for many months before finally changing last May. This is what is called “making a pivot” in startup jargon, as Quentin explains: “At the beginning of the year, we began working on a project to detect VOCs “volatile organic compounds”, emitted just before epileptic seizures, in order to prevent them.  However, as this first project was much too ambitious and would have required more than a year of work, we had to find another subject, while maintaining the principle of detection, which we definitely wanted to work on. This is how the Cobatect concept came into being.“

Two bacterial reinforcements!

In order to develop Cobatect, the team members studied the projects proposed during previous iGEM editions. This is how they were able to identify an interesting bacterium,  Shewanella oneidensis, capable of producing an electrical signal (and used by a former IONIS iGEM team). “This will allow us to precisely quantify the targeted compound, namely vitamin B12,” notes Quentin. His teammates also studied other projects that had addressed the detection of cobalamin in the past in order to perfect their innovative approach. “Our solution uses bacterial modifications via two bacteria, Escherichia coli and Shewanella oneidensis. We modified the first one to obtain a plasmid that could detect vitamin B12. This plasmid contains a riboswitch which, in contact with vitamin B12, generates the secretion of lactate dehydrogenase, resulting in the production of lactate that will be used by Shewanella oneidensis to display the most precise level of detected cobalamin as well as the most suitable recommendations, based on the test results.

Escherichia coli bacterium

A quick and practical test

Primarily intended for individuals who do not eat animal-based products, the Cobatect kit will have the advantage of producing rapid results, unlike current detection tools that require laboratory testing. “There are self-tests on the market, but these also must be sent to a laboratory in order to obtain the results a few days later. With Cobatect, the results will be available after only a few hours.” This solution could facilitate testing in geographical areas that are far from laboratories and medical facilities… and win over the iGEM jury in a few months! “Our goal is to win a gold medal and be nominated,” says Quentin. No need for a motivation detector to see that these students are truly enthusiastic!

Would you like to support the IONIS iGEM team?  Participate in the crowdfunding campaign!

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The 2021 IONIS iGEM team:

Laboratory: Julian Leduc (lab head), Marie Guillaume (secretary), Casilda Hitier (treasurer) and Quentin Naudin (Sup’Biotech class of 2022, president) – Human Practice: Camille Zany (Sup’Biotech class 2022, manager) – Communication: Viktoriia Ovchinnikova (sponsor) and Arrya Jayasundara (Sup’Biotech class of 2022, market) – Software: Benjamin Decreusefond and Morgan Vaterkowski (EPITA class 2022) – Electronics Hardware: Jeanne Daubigné (ESME Sudria class of 2023)