Students devise method to stop dissemination of Xylella fastidiosa

The Wageningen team has taken second place at the international student iGEM competition. The team, composed of 11 talented students from Wageningen, came up with a method to stop the dissemination of the dangerous plant pathogen, Xylella fastidiosa.

This bacterium is a world-wide threat to over 350 different plants and crops, such as grapes, olives and citrus fruits. Highlighting the urgency to deal with this problem, the European Union has already given it the status of a quarantine organism.

Enhanced natural enemies
In the iGEM competion, 353 teams of students designed and carried out project addressing real-world problems using synthetic biology. The project of the Wageningen iGEM team, entitled “Xylencer”, had a clear mission: to stop the world-wide spread of the Xylella-bacterium. Their method was based on the natural enemies of the pathogen: the bacteriophage (viruses that can infect and kill the Xylella bacterium). Using genetic modification, these phages were equipped with two new traits to combat Xylella. Firstly, phages were armed with genes, enabling it to trigger the plant’s immune systems when encountering Xylella in the plant sap. Secondly, the phages were equipped with proteins, which made them more effective in spreading from plant to plant by attaching to the most important carrier of these dangerous bacteria: the insects that typically feed on these plants.

Second place
The project turned out to be a huge success: of all teams at the final stage (the so-called “Giant Jamboree” in Boston from 31 October till 4 November), the Wageningen team came in second. On top of that, the team was nominated for the best website, best presentation, best outreach project, best poster and best “Food & Nutrition” project. In the end, the team managed to secure the latter two prizes. This success is not only an appreciation for the immense effort the team put into this project, but also represents a nice example of the mission of our university: “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”.

Annual competition
Each year, the iGEM team is organized by the Laboratory of Microbiology and Systems and Synthetic biology. Wageningen upholds a strong international reputation within the iGEM competition.

Source: Wageningen University & Research

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