doi:10.1038/nindia.2009.332 Published online 10 November 2009

MIT award for 'smell of first rains'

The winning team. Top: (L to R) Avni Sethi, Yashas Shetty (mentor), Mukund Thattai (mentor), Rich Pell (iGEM judge), Nikhil Patil, Tito Jankowshi (iGEM judge), Gautam Vishwanath. Middle (L to R): Sanya Rai Gupta, Uppasana Simha, Dhruv Nawani, Krupakar Dhinakaran. Bottom (L to R): Sandeep Mathew, Neha Bhat.

A team of undergraduate students from Bangalore has earned laurels at an international competition for making a bacteria that can help create the smell of earth after the first monsoon rains.

Ten design students from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology conducted an experiment that borrowed equally from the arts and sciences to construct the bacteria that could make geosmin, the substance responsible for the emotive smell of freshly ploughed earth, or of the first monsoon rains.

Their 'smell of rain' project bagged the 'Best Presentation' title at the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Competition held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology earlier this month.

The event saw undergraduate teams from around the world compete to build innovative genetic devices in living cells, applying synthetic biology to solve problems in areas such as environment, energy, health, and foundational research.

The team's prize-winning presentation documented their journey of discovery, as they learned the language and techniques of the life sciences and explored its cultural, ethical, and aesthetic implications.

Over 100 teams from 25 countries participated in iGEM 2009. The Cambridge team was awarded the Grand Prize, as well as a prize for the 'Best Environmental Project', while the Stanford team won in the 'Health or Medicine' category.

India was represented by four teams — Srishti; IIT Bombay, which engineered bacterial feedback controllers; IIT Madras, which designed a living lock-and-key device; and Praveen Sahu (IBB Pune), which designed cells based on game theory.

This is the third year in a row that India has picked up an iGEM prize. However, it was the first time India had multiple teams at iGEM.