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A gem of an idea

14 Nov 2013

Manchester students win international award


Manchester students have won an international award for their work to develop a biosynthetic version of palm oil – a widely used vegetable oil whose current production causes environmental devastation.

The Manchester iGEM (International Genetically Engineering Machine) team won the ‘Best Human Practices’ award at the iGEM World Championships in Boston.

The ten students, with funding from the Faculty of Life Sciences, competed against 73 other synthetic biology teams from around the world.

Their oil, when developed, could help preserve the rainforest and thereby save major elements of biodiversity, including tigers and orang-utans.

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world and can be found in products ranging from chocolate to cosmetics. Its current production is causing environmental devastation and this mass deforestation increases carbon emissions and destroys the habitats of thousands of endangered species. 

By genetically modifying the most widely used components of the oil, the team have created a blueprint which would render the widespread deforestation associated with the palm oil industry redundant and so halt the relentless destruction of the environment.

At the same time, consideration was given to the impact this development would have on those who make their living producing the oil and their project drew praise for a vision in which synthetic biology and traditional farming complemented each other.