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Sep 2, 2015 4:16 EDT

Building Vaccines – Injectimod UNSW: an international biomolecular design competition held annually at Harvard University

iCrowdNewswire - Sep 2, 2015

Building Vaccines – Injectimod UNSW

The story of the project

We’re Team Injectimod, a team of students from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) who are the Australian entrants for BIOMOD, an international biomolecular design competition held annually at Harvard University.

We want to develop vaccines for conditions affecting millions of people every year (e.g. chlamydia and dysentery) by learning from Nature to artificially rebuild parts of the bacteria that cause them. 

Specifically, we want to re-assemble the needle tip of the Type Three Secretion System (T3SS), which allows bacteria to pump toxins into our cells.

Why reconstruct a bacteria you may ask? If we can build the tip artificially, then body’s immune system can learn to recognise and fight it.

This is a potentially game changing approach to vaccine development – artificially rebuilding parts of bacteria to get the body to develop it’s immune resistance to them. If it works, this approach could be used in vaccines for conditions such as dysentery (80 million cases a year), typhoid fever (21 million a year), chlamydia (215 million a year) and a long list of other diseases

(Fun fact – the Black Plague in its heyday used the Type Three Secretion System).

Trying to build these systems, as opposed to trying to understand them only through observation, could also help answer fundamental questions about how biological machines actually work.

What in the science?

We want to use DNA and proteins as structural materials to build the tip of the T3SS. It’s an approach that’s born out of the field of bionanotechnology (this video explains how it works quite well) – it’s similar to building structures using Lego, except on the nanoscale. Check out this comic for a clue! 

If you want to keep up to date with our work, check out our Wiki– this will be filled up with the details of our lab work as we get closer to the competition.

What is “BIOMOD”?

BIOMOD is an international biomolecular design competition, held annually at Harvard University, in Boston. 

Teams of undergraduate students from all around the world compete to construct useful machines such as molecular computers and prototypes for nanoscale therapeutics using the molecules of life (DNA, proteins etc).

This is a fundamentally new approach to the use and study of biological molecules with massive potential for the creation of ground breaking technologies. It is also an unparalleled learning experience for the next generation of leading scientists and engineers, and gives students the chance to meet and exchange ideas with like-minded peers in an elite international setting as they present their work at the Jamboree hosted by Harvard.

Who exactly are Injectimod?

We’re a group of 7 students from UNSW, based at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Insitute.

We come from a range of backgrounds, including Aerospace Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Medical Science and Materials Science. What we share is a love of science and engineering, which is necessary since we’re doing this project on top of our normal university studies. We’ll also probably all have caffeine addictions by the end of the semester.

Here’s a photo of the 7 of us with our supervisors. Keep up with our team on Facebookor Twitter!

How the funds will be used

Science is expensive and so is flying to America from Australia!

We’ve been working on this with increasing fervor (and decreasing sleep) since April. Your  funds will be used to help us complete our lab work (i.e. build the tip and prove it) and travel to Boston so that we can present our work to teams from all around the world at Harvard University. 

We’re fortunate enough to receive significant support from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, the NSW Government and various departments at UNSW. 

However we’re still about $14 – 19,000 short of our total fundraising total (as detailed below) and we’re asking for your support to help get us over the line. 

(Please note – pledges are not tax deductible.)

Budget Breakdown

Team Expenses (7 people)

Lab/equipment and infrastructure use (in kind) – $11,000
Lab Consumables – $11 – 15,000
BIOMOD Registration & US Visa Costs – $600
Accommodation – $900
Return flights to Boston and accommodation – $13,500
Possible Synchrotron Trip – $2000
Team apparel – $500

TOTAL – $39,500 – 43,500

Funds Raised
TOTAL – Approximately $25,000

Funds Required:
$14,500 – 18,500

Some of my other work

We’ve had a pretty successful run during our short history. 

Meet last years team, Team echiDNA – http://openwetware.org/wiki/Biomod/2014/VCCRI

They developed a co-operative biosensor which could in the future be used to detect viruses (such as ebola) and were the first Australian team to win the competition (or compete!) We’re being advised by members of that team, including Jon Berengut, Andrew Tuckwell and Dr. Lawrence Lee.


It’s lonely being on the frontier. Biology has traditionally been studied through observation – nobody has ever rebuilt parts of bacteria before. This means we’re likely to find some surprises when we try to build these protein complexes ourselves. 

We’re fortunate to be working in a lab which studies biology in the same way (by trying to build it). This means that we have a wealth of experience to draw from as well as the opportunity to conduct experiments using cutting edge techniques (such as single molecule fluorescence, biolayer interferometry and DNA origami) to get stuff done. 

Contact Information:


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