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For their development of artificial, bee-free honey, a team of Israeli students from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology was awarded a gold medal at this year’s iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine), a prestigious science competition held in Boston by MIT - the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that gives students the opportunity to experiment with aspects of scientific and applied research in synthetic biology.
For the past year, the team has been working on the synthetic honey which is made with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Also known as hay bacillus or grass bacillus, Bacillus subtilis “learns” to produce the honey following reprogramming in the lab, the Technion students said. The bacteria can independently control the production of enzymes, eventually achieving a product with the same sugar profile as real honey, and the same health benefits.
The Technion team at the iGEM competition in Boston
The development is important within the context of the sharp decline in bee populations in many parts of the world, also known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), as well as the potential future ability of manufacturers to determine the properties of the artificial honey, including how it would taste. Since no animals have been used in the process of making the synthetic honey, the product would be vegan, allowing it to tap into a vegan food market expected to be worth mora than $20 billion by 2026.
“The winnings in the competition are definitely exciting, but equally important is the intellectual property created around the project,” said Prof. Roee Amit, head of the Synthetic Biology Laboratory for the Decipherment of Genomic Codes in the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, who led the team.
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