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Michael Shen '20: Engineering the Future of Science

Sarah O'Neill
Since his arrival at Tilton School three years ago, Xuanyu (Michael) Shen ‘20 of Wuhan, China has shown a strong interest in the field of Biology. This past summer, he took this passion a step further by working in the laboratory at Peking University in Beijing, China. His diligent work earned him the opportunity to move forward into an internship with the university.
“Biology helps me to learn more about this world,” Michael says. “It’s there to help us get to know everything better, from animals to the smallest bacterias. That’s just really interesting to me.”

On October 24-28, Michael joined a team of Peking University students, along with over 300 teams from all over the world, at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation’s Giant Gymboree in Boston, Massachusetts. Held every fall in Boston, the Gymboree is iGEM’s main program and competition. For the students involved, who are all primarily at a university level, the Gymboree presents the opportunity to “push the boundaries of synthetic biology by tackling everyday issues facing the world.”

Teams work together to design, build, test, and measure a uniquely designed system. They do so using “interchangeable biological parts and standard molecular biology techniques.” Each year, nearly 6,000 students spend the majority of their summer preparing for the iGEM competition and the Gymboree is when teams come together to show the fruits of their labor.

For the competition, Michael worked with 14 other team members to construct a “multifunctional toolbox” in yeast by introducing a synthetic membrane-less organelle. Membrane-less organelles are “liquid droplets within a cell that arise from the condensation of cellular material in a process termed liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS).”

“One of the functions (of our project) is that it can be a sensor,” Michael explains. “We use phase separation, which is a pretty new technology, we record the phases, and can clearly see one of the droplets separate into two. This stuff can also stimulate the production of beta-keratin.”

The team took home an impressive gold medal and were nominated for Best New Composite PartBest Part Collection, and Best Foundational Advance Project. Michael is grateful for this experience and sees it as another step towards a future career in synthetic biology.

“I’m really interested in Biology, so I’m really excited about this experience. Working in the lab (and on this competition) has been a really helpful and great experience.” Michael says. “I’ve learned a lot and am looking forward to improving my understanding of biology.”

About iGEM
The iGEM Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, and the development of an open community and collaboration. This is done by fostering an open, cooperative community and friendly competition.

iGEM’s main program is the iGEM Competition. The iGEM competition gives students the opportunity to push the boundaries of synthetic biology by tackling everyday issues facing the world. Made up of primarily university students, multidisciplinary teams work together to design, build, test, and measure a system of their own design using interchangeable biological parts and standard molecular biology techniques. Every year nearly 6,000 people dedicate their summer to iGEM and then come together in the fall to present their work and compete at the annual Jamboree.

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