by Niala Mohammad
A group of 7 biotechnology undergraduate students from Peshawar nabbed the Bronze medal at MIT’s annual “iGem Competition”. The iGEM, or the international genetically engineered machines competition, is an annual flagship student contest hosted by MIT. This year iGem had 301 competitors from across the globe. iGem Peshawar was the sole representation of Pakistan, whereas India had 8 different teams that made it to the iGem competition. Dr Faisal Khan, the lead of the iGem Peshawar team, as well as the director of the Institute of Integrative Bio-sciences at CECOS University, Peshawar proudly stated, “Our lab in Peshawar is the only one in the country! That is why top biotechnology students from all over Pakistan flock to it. This is something we are really proud of!”
Dr Faisal Khan said that the iGem Peshawar team is a group of 12 mostly Pashtun students that were selected out of hundreds of applicants throughout Pakistan. However, due to funding only seven of twelve students could travel to Boston to take part in the final stages of the competition. Dr. Faisal Khan told VOA Deewa, “all of the girls in our iGem Peshawar team are Pashtun, hailing from Waziristan, Mardan, Swat, and Peshawar.”
The iGem Peshawar team created a biosensor for the detection of levels of CO and NOx (Carbon Monoxide and Oxide of Nitrogen) in vehicle emissions. The sensor invented by the iGem Peshawar team is a cost effective, time efficient, easy to use, and compact. The strip technology can help improve air quality by detecting CO and NOx.
The inhalation of these lethal gases are hazardous to human health. In Fact, the Global Atmospheric Pollution Forum states that Carbon Monoxide, “at higher concentrations, exposure can cause impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. Acute effects are due to the formation of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake. Exposure to CO at moderate concentrations, angina attacks, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result. At very high concentrations, CO exposure can be fatal.” And, “Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) are a family of gases that can cause a number of serious health effects. One form of NOx, nitrogen dioxide, is unhealthy to breathe, especially for children, the elderly, asthmatics and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. NOx is also a key component to the formation of ozone and photochemical oxidants. Breathing low levels of ozone, for example, can trigger asthma attacks and other problems for people with preexisting respiratory problems.”
The new sensor developed by the iGem Peshawar team can be used for more than just testing vehicle emissions, it can also be used to test space heaters and portable gas stoves used by the majority of households in Pakistan. Although cars are a major contributor to air pollution in the world, inhalation of poisonous gaseous material from household heaters and cookers is a more imminent threat in Pakistan where a number of people die each year due to its inhalation.
The iGem Peshawar team not only devised a solution to curb air pollution world-wide but addressed a pertinent domestic issue. Congrats Team iGem Peshawar – Rabia Gul Dawar (South Waziristan), Sarah Farooq (Mardan), Sidra Usman (Peshawar), Maleeha Mashkoor (Peshawar), Abdul Hadi Abro (Hyderabad), Sami Ullah (Swat), Muhammad Ali (Karachi), Rayyan Khan (Lahore), Masoom Hossein (Peshawar), Asif Hanif (Kalat), Mansoor Saleem (Swat), Muhammad Ismail (Karachi), Dr. Faisal Khan (Mardan)
Learn more about iGem here: http://igem.org/Main_Page
iGem Peshawar Team Official site: http://2016.igem.org/Team:Peshawar
iGem Peshawar Team Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/igempeshawar/