Montrose Takes on BioBuilders Conference

Montrose BioBuilders team with BioBuilders mentor Natalie Kuldell (far left) and club advisor Ms. Hanna.

Natalie Kuldell

Montrose BioBuilders team with BioBuilders mentor Natalie Kuldell (far left) and club advisor Ms. Hanna.

Since September, the BioBuilders club has been working on a project to present at the final assembly. In the fall, we brainstormed issues that we could solve with synthetic biology. After thinking through the world’s many problems, we settled on Salmonella Typhi (S. Typhi), specifically in third-world countries that do not have access to consistently safe food and water supplies. While the US has access to antibiotics if anyone is infected with S. Typhi, many third-world countries do not and undetected S. Typhi can prove to be fatal. 

We designed a yeast solution to detect S. Typhi, where its antibody will be displayed on the surface of the yeast. If S.Typhi binds to its antibody, it will set off a signal transduction pathway, resulting in protons pumped into the surrounding yeast solution. A pH indicator added to the solution will detect this change, turning from blue to yellow and indicating S. Typhi contamination in an easy-to-understand result. 

Yeast solution is self-generating, so it would be a one-time purchase, reducing cost and increasing accessibility. A small portion of the yeast solution would be used each time, and the remaining solution would be left to regrow, similar to a starter used in bread. The simple color change as evidence of S. Typhi contamination would be easy to identify at home, and since our solution is yeast-based, it would also be safe for household use. Cost-effective, simple to use, and safe for household use: if successful, our yeast solution would allow for greater food safety and security in vulnerable populations.

Diagrams of our yeast solution. (Montrose BioBuilders team)

The final assembly occurred on Thursday, March 16 at the BioBuilders lab in Cambridge. There were a total of 30 teams, with about 12 of them attending in person. We were the only members of the Montrose club able to attend the assembly, and we prepared what’s called a ‘lightning talk.’ Essentially, we gave the audience a one-minute overview of our project.

Hana Shinzawa ’24 and Leslie Baker ‘24 presenting the team’s lightning talk. (Natalie Kuldell)

All of the teams presented a ‘lightning talk,’ and then we moved on to the poster sessions. The posters provided a more in-depth description of each project, including an abstract, which is a scientific paragraph describing the details of the project. Eight posters were displayed on the big screens at once, and each team stood next to their poster to answer questions. There were three rounds of poster sessions, and our team was in the second session (which, in our opinion, was the best one.) 

We got some wonderful questions, and we were able to see other teams’ projects and ask them questions. It was really cool to be able to see what the other teams had come up with as their project. One of our favorites was a project about protecting crops from moths that eat them. This was the tenth anniversary of the BioBuilders organization, so there was a cake cutting ceremony in between the second and third poster session. 

The BioBuilders Final Assembly was truly an inspiring experience. As high schoolers, we’re usually not experts in anything. Everyone else has had years worth of a head start, so why would they bother asking us to explain how things work? The Final Assembly gave us the opportunity to become experts for a day. Fielding questions about our research and explaining our system let us feel confident in our project and our scientific capabilities. It was a taste of the science that lies, perhaps, in our future.

Thank you to our mentor, Natalie Kuldell, who helped us develop our yeast solution, and thank you to our club advisors, Mrs. Dimitriou and Ms. Hanna. The experience was incredible, and hopefully we will be able to attend again next year! 


By Leslie Baker ‘24, Clubs and Classes Editor & Hana Shinzawa ‘24, Co-Assistant Editor-in-Chief and Science Editor &