Third Security, LLC, a private equity and venture capital firm, will sponsor a team of Virginia Tech students taking part in the 2007 International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition. The annual iGEM jamboree, which focuses on the cutting-edge science of synthetic biology, takes place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston on November 3 and 4.

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) Associate Professor Jean Peccoud, leader of the Virginia Tech team, remarked: "We are extremely pleased that Third Security will sponsor Virginia Tech's team of undergraduate students who are currently working on a cutting-edge scientific project in the emerging area of synthetic biology. The funds provided by Third Security will help support the laboratory work that will take place over the summer months, as well as participation by the students in the jamboree in November."

Rob Patzig, Senior Managing Director of Third Security, said: "Third Security is pleased to sponsor this group of outstanding Virginia Tech students and their faculty leaders. We hope that the project will not only benefit the individual participants involved, but also will highlight the productivity of VBI and the promise of the iGEM program. Our firm is committed to promoting economic development in southwest Virginia, and we believe that opportunities such as this may ultimately spark entrepreneurial activity in the New River Valley region, perhaps even creating investment opportunities for NewVa Capital Partners."

VBI's Executive and Scientific Director Bruno Sobral notes that "57 teams from around the globe have already registered for the iGEM competition including, for the first time, several teams from China. This is truly an international event that attracts talented undergraduate students with an entrepreneurial flair and an interest in transdisciplinary research."

Synthetic biology has many applications but essentially involves the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, as well as the redesign of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes. The iGEM competition focuses on research in synthetic biology and gives undergraduate students the opportunity to design and build an engineered biological system using standard DNA parts.

"We are really excited to announce the project that we will be working on over the coming months," said Emily Delalla, one of the Virginia Tech iGEM team members. "The team has decided to engineer viral epidemics in bacterial populations, which should allow for a better understanding of the relationship between a pathogen and its host."

Team member Matthew Lux, an undergraduate at Virginia Tech in the College of Engineering, provided more details about the project. "We have already started working on the first part of the project," he said. "This has involved the simulation and modeling of a disease epidemic on both the molecular and population levels. For this purpose, we have been using a model system that comprises the infection of the bacterium Escherichia coli by the commonly used research virus known as phage lambda. Over the summer, we will introduce genetic changes into the bacteria and the virus to observe the real-time development of the infection using high-throughput instruments. The team will also develop a vaccination kit for the bacteria and possibly engineer the phage to alter its virulence."

Peccoud concluded: "I am particularly excited by this project because it will bring a new perspective to the study of complex systems in the iGEM arena. I am confident that the students will demonstrate that the engineering approach of synthetic biology provides a new framework to investigate fundamental biological phenomena such as the dynamics of host-pathogen interactions."

About iGEM

The iGEM competition tests the idea that biological engineering can be performed more reproducibly through the use of standardized parts. iGEM hopes to discover creative new approaches to designing and building engineered biological systems while encouraging the development of collaborations and sharing of information and experiences. For more information please consult the iGEM 2007 website.

About Third Security, LLC

Third Security, LLC, is a private equity and venture capital firm formed in 1999 to manage investments in public and private companies. The firm leverages its people, expertise and capital to guide investments and companies to category dominance.

About NewVa Capital Partners

NewVa Capital Partners, LP is a private equity/venture capital enterprise to fund companies willing to begin operations in or relocate to the Roanoke Valley, the New River Valley and the Alleghany Highlands of southwestern Virginia. The principals in the NewVa Capital Partners, LP are Carilion Health System, the Virginia Tech Foundation and Third Security, LLC. The Fund is managed by Third Security, LLC.

About VBI

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech has a research platform centered on understanding the "disease triangle" of host-pathogen-environment interactions in plants, humans and other animals. By successfully channeling innovation into transdisciplinary approaches that combine information technology and biology, researchers at VBI are addressing some of today's key challenges in the biomedical, environmental and plant sciences.

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