Team:WPI-Worcester -





iGEM provided WPI students with a rare opportunity: the opportunity to use our knowledge, most prominently that of synthetic biology, to execute a project that we were passionate about. For the first time in our undergraduate careers, we would not have guidelines set by our professors, there would be no topics chosen for us, and we could tackle a global problem that we deemed important. With the guidance of our advisor, Professor Farny, WPI’s inaugural iGEM team looked to tackle the issue of antibiotic resistance.

In the United States, the CDC estimates that at least 2,049,442 illnesses and 23,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic resistance [1]. Antibiotic resistance is also associated with an estimated $20 billion dollar yearly excess in direct healthcare costs due to prolonged or costlier treatments, extended hospital stays, and additional doctor visits.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing global issue that has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the British government recently released that the goal of the Longitude Prize, a challenge with a 10 million pound prize aimed at solving one of the greatest issues of our time, was to prevent the rise of antibiotic resistance[2].The challenge opened Summer 2014, and both amateur and professional scientists from around the world are encouraged to submit their ideas for a cheap, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use point of care test kit for bacterial infections. Judging will conclude in 2020, and the work of the winning team will ideally allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time.

One of the major causes of antibiotic resistance is the overuse of antibiotics. Often, clinicians blanket treat patients, prescribing broad-spectrum antibiotics in the absence of a proper diagnosis. This is especially true if an illness has nebulous symptoms associated with numerous infections and the clinician does not have the time or resources to perform a diagnostic test. The over prescription of antibiotics has consequently put selective pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance. This means that antibiotics, which are so beneficial to our society, are becoming ineffective over time, and could potentially be rendered completely useless as a treatment long-term.

During preliminary research, it was discovered that antibiotic resistance is a massive problem in the farming industry. In fact, more than 3 times the amount of antibiotics given to humans are administered to livestock [3]. Bacteria in these livestock then evolve resistance and can be passed from “farm to fork” when individuals eat the products of said animal.

In order to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance, the WPI iGEM team decided to start at the source: livestock. There are over 1 billion goats worldwide and they play an integral role in many economies, especially in developing countries[4]. One disease that affects both goats and sheep is called Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Virus (CAEV), and it is characterized by nebulous symptoms such as polyarthritis and inflammation of the breast tissue. Early diagnosis of this disease is crucial because it spreads quickly through a herd if undetected and products from a herd infected with CAEV can no longer be sold. Not only that, but the symptoms of this disease are so vague that it frequently goes undiagnosed, and broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment is often administered to the infected goat or sheep instead. The misuse of these antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistant superbugs. The goal of WPI’s inaugural iGEM team is to create a cheap, quick, and reliable mechanism for detecting and identifying infections, such as CAEV, to prevent the over prescription of unnecessary antibiotics.


[1] CDC (US). Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States [Internet].Atlanta (GA): 2013 April [cited 2014 October 10]; Available from:

[2] Longitude Prize [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2014 Oct. 16th]. Available from:

[3] Pew Charitable Trusts. 2013. Record-High antibiotic sales for meat and poultry production. [cited 2014 Oct. 6] Available from:

[4] FAOSTAT (United Nations). Statistics of Production/Live Animals [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2014 Oct 16]; Available from: