Ten young people dressed in yellow sweatshirts converse around a machine the size of a microwave. Barely one meter wide, this device has changed the lives of all of them, and could change that of many people on the planet. This is Printeria, the machine capable of printing on the DNA of a bacterium and that has led the multidisciplinary team of the Polytechnic University of Valencia to raze in the synthetic biology contest iGEM. The Valencian team won five prizes after demonstrating in Boston against 343 teams from the most prestigious universities in the world that their invention could revolutionize the genetic edition and even allow users to print insulin at home.
"We look for the idea of democratizing synthetic biology and that everyone can have access to it in their homes," explains Roger Monfort, leader of iGEM UPV. Monfort has spent five months devoting most of his time to the improvement of Printeria, the tool that has led his team to achieve glory in the iGEM. "Our invention can have an educational, artistic or scientific purpose", explains Monfort. Printeria is a small laboratory available to everyone that could be used for practical teaching or to automate complex genetic modification processes. "We liberate the scientist from the most mechanized practices and guarantee the quality of the result since it sequels operations that are now practically done by hand", declares Monfort.
With 21 years old, this young man it has become a source of inspiration for many students from his university and an example that something small can change the course of history. "Our machine is intuitive, it's simple, it's domestic and it can change the world, I could even print insulin at home because it does not stop being DNA in the human genome," he explains. Another aspect in which the Valencian team has proposed to innovate is in bioart. Printeria allows the bioartist to produce their own raw materials from living organisms. "In the bioart, bacteria, fabrics, crops, etc. are used as an expression of a multitude of creative possibilities." Printeria facilitates and democratizes this type of experimental art, since it makes available to any living and unique materials ", concludes the leader of iGEM UPV .
Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College or Stanford: these are some of the universities that have been overtaken by the iGEM UPV team. In addition to the first prize, the UPV team has received five special awards; Best Project with New Application; Best Software; Better Hardware; Best Wiki and Best Modeling. "They say that the showrooms were filled according to the impact of the project, ours was full and we did not understand anything, but when we turned around we saw that we had a Chinese team behind us," Carlos Andreu laughs. One of the strengths of the Valencian team has been the ability to synthesize the scientific knowledge of their project through design and art. "Our website was very simple, with schemes and colors, easy to win to the jury in the 15 minutes we had, "explains Joan Casado, responsible for the design of Printeria." Our motto was that until we could explain it well to our mother with our schemes we were not going to stop, "says Casado.
Alejandro Vignoni, one of the instructors of the project, highlights the difference in support among the participating teams. "Universities like Harvard or Oxford had a slider in which dozens of sponsors at the beginning of their exhibitions, ours could be counted on the fingers, "he says." We were going with expectations, aware that our product was powerful, but we did not expect so many prizes. We have shown that without sponsors and working can achieve great things, "he stressed.
Francisco Mora, rector of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, has received the iGEM team to congratulate them on their victory at an event held at the university's Rectorship. "We can be a country at the forefront of science and technology, but young people should be supported," Mora said, referring to the productive fabric is not absorbing all the talent that arises from the universities. The rector has honored the student team and thanked him for his effort. "It's as if Levante won the Champions League: we have shown that we can achieve big things with less means, "Mora concluded.