Students from the University of Macau (UM) are now preparing for the 2021 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. This will be the third time UM participates in this worldwide synthetic biology competition. Under the guidance of Assistant Professor Leo Tsz On LEE, Associate Professor Chris Koon Ho WONG and Kin Yip TAM of Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), 21 FHS students, 1 from Faculty of Business Administration (FBA) and 1 from Faculty of Arts and Humanities (FAH) make up this year’s team of totally 23 students.

Beer is the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic drink, and China is one of the largest beer markets in the world. However, drinking beer is known to associate with health issues, one of which is the high purine intake when consuming beer. Purine intake is associated with hyperuricaemia and an increased risk of incident gout which is a common and excruciatingly painful inflammatory arthritis. The breakdown of purine produces uric acid in the body. When the serum uric acid exceeds the threshold, uric acid crystalizes and deposits in and around the joint. Not only gout can affect life quality, it also appears to be related to hypertension, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, and renal and cardiovascular diseases.

The objective of the UM team’s iGEM project is to reduce the high purine content of beer, while maintaining the taste and aroma of the beer. This lower purine content beer can become a healthier alternative for drinkers, especially for those who are sensitive to the purine content.

The iGEM was founded in 2003 as an intersession course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It then grew to a summer competition in 2004 and became a global competition since 2005. By participating in the iGEM competition, students not only gained knowledge of synthetic biology but also gained experience in completing a project and applying it to the real world. UM won gold medals at the competitions in 2019 and 2020.

The UM team of 2021 iGEM competition