When Robert Ovadia got his invitation, he couldn’t believe it.
He and four other students from his biotechnology class at Abraham Lincoln High School not only had an offer of paid summer lab jobs, they also would have a chance to square off against the world’s powerhouse science universities.
In their Sunset District classroom, biotech teacher George Cachianes told the seniors they could be part of a team that would compete at iGEM, the international Genetically Engineered Machine competition. The contest founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology focuses on synthetic biology, one of the most far-out of new scientific fields. It treats the building blocks of life – proteins and other molecules created by cells under instructions from DNA – as engineering parts that can be cobbled together to make anything from a new microorganism to a computer component. With luck, the Lincoln kids might help break new ground in science.
“I’m like, ‘It’s too good to be true,’ ” Ovadia remembers thinking.
The invitation came from UCSF Professor Wendell Lim, whose lab explores how cells process information and send signals. Lim knew his teenage proteges would face fierce competition from college teams at Harvard, Princeton and dozens of other elite universities around the globe.