Synthetic Biology

What is iGEM Competition?

iGEM Giant Jamboree source: igem foundation

What is iGEM Competition?

iGEM stands for International Genetic Engineer Machine, began in 2003 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It has since grown into the world’s biggest Synthetic Biology competition. Now hosting over 320 teams from around the world in 2018.

Over 16 years, iGEM competition has offered a unique and exciting opportunity for students to form cross-disciplinary teams. Also, to transform their ideas, from theory and books to real-world applications to solve real-world problems.

iGEM Foundation

It is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to education and competition. It has been playing a key role in promoting and the development of Synthetic Biology across the whole globe. Also, encourage the development of an open community and collaborations.

History of iGEM

In 2003, iGEM first began with an independent activities project course in synthetic biology at MIT. Tom Knight, Drew Endy and Randy Retterberg, scientists at MIT organized it by for the first time.

Officially, in 2004, iGEM started as a competition. Participants came from MIT, University of Boston, Princeton, University of Texas and Caltech. Later in 2005, it officially started on an international level and had 13 teams from four different countries.

In 2006, iGEM saw 37 teams in total on an international level, coming together and competing. While in 2016, it had more than 5000 participants. In 2018, more than 5400 participants, 320 teams, from 44 countries around the globe.

What is the Giant Jamboree?

The Giant Jamboree is the biggest International meet up of the young scientist. It provides an opportunity for the members of the community to establish relations and work on fruitful collaborations.

Giant Jamboree is a five-day event held at the Hynes Convention Centre, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The event is attended by more than 320 teams from all over the world. Also, Members of the Industry and the science community, who are involved in substantial Research, Development and Promotion of science, in attendance at Giant Jamboree.

Giant Jamboree igem
Giant Jamboree; exhibitor booths and teams posters shown in the main hall.  Source: igem foundation

Numerous events are spread out throughout five days, giving an ample amount of time for each event. The presentations are the most crucial and sought-after events at the Giant Jamboree.

Registry of Standard Biological Parts

iGEM foundation also runs another program called ‘’ Registry of Standard Biological Parts’’. It is a collection of standardized biological parts, called Biobricks. These parts include DNA fragments, Promotor, terminator, ribosomal binding sites, and other specific DNA parts. They are standardized because to avoid confusion and chances of errors.

Biobricks are standardized and are the same throughout the world. For example, a standardized specific promotor biobrick in the USA will be the same if it is compared to the same biobrick in China. Consider each bio bricks as a Lego piece, a Lego piece in one part of the world will be the same just like another Lego piece, found in another part of the world.

Therefore, the registry of standard biological parts is one of the largest open access collections of standardized biological parts. Also, each year, researchers working on different synthetic biology projects, submit novel DNA sequences and DNA parts to the registry. Which later to be standardized and become Biobricks.

iGEM team composition

A good team can generally have up to 8-12 members while single person teams are not allowed. One mentor and two advisors are needed for a team.

The teams formed can be of three types, high school, undergraduates & postgraduate, and community labs-based teams. The teams are then needed to be registered online and to pay a registration fee.

Skilled Required for iGEM

The participants are needed to be thoroughly trained and well equipped. They are trained in various skills during the whole course for preparing for competition. Also, have skills like project planning, teamwork, networking. Lab skills include wet and dry lab, lab safety skills.

Also, project designing, communication and presentation skills. Team members Tare also given other roles such as media management role, networking role, financing role. Etc.

Summer Lab Work

At the beginning of every season, each team receives a kit plate of synthetic DNA parts from the iGEM headquarters. Using these DNA parts of their own design, teams integrate synthetic DNA components to create novel biological systems. The aim to performs some useful functions, for examples, diagnose or treat a disease, to detect toxins in the environment. Also, the production of other sustainable products including Biofuels, Chemicals, Drugs and more.

Project Judgement

The projects are judged based on the quality of their biological work, the significance, and applicability of their project. Also, human practices, safety components, and the presentation of their work via the website, poster, and a formal oral presentation.

Skills Developed and Put into a Practice in iGEM

iGEM is full of learning and opportunities. You will learn team-work, project management, collaborations, and networking skills. Also, how to communicate your research to both experts and the public, identifying a problems statement and developing a road-map to solve it.

Moreover, it gives you a unique platform to learn various technical skills such as molecular biology, computational biology, synthetic biology, web designing, simulations, data analysis and more.

iGEM Team Experiences

Synthetic Biology Companies came out of iGEM

iGEM foundation has played a considerable role in promoting synthetic biology. The fact that it brings people from every background, and then they all work together to solve a real-life problem. Which later leads to potential startup ideas.

A synthetic biology giant, Gingko Bioworks’’ was founded by a team whose participants took part in the first iGEM competition. Apart from Gingko, there are more than 30 startups, which were all original participants of iGEM. They all have used their projects as the basis of their startups.

Another synbio startup – Bento lab, started by a team of University College London, and developed Portable DNA Laboratory.

Also, an MIT iGEM team startup – Benchling an online tool for molecular biology. Benchling aims to sample tracking, note taking and simulations of various experiments and molecular designing.

Other startups include SynBioBeta, premier innovation network for innovators, investors, engineers, and thinkers. Who share a passion for using synthetic biology to build a better, more sustainable Universe.

Safety and Security at iGEM

iGEM foundation set rules and regulations and promotes safety, security and fair competition.

iGEM not only empower us to learn and solve real-world problems but to be a responsible citizen in every aspect, a policymaker. As the statement delivered by Meagan Lizarazo – iGEM foundation vice-president, “We also believe in and strongly promote responsible research, where iGEM teams actively consider ethics, sustainability, diversity, safety, and security in every step of the way. Not only do teams consider these issues, but they also take what they learn and integrate these lessons back into their projects”.

Frequently asked questions about iGEM

Q: Is iGEM really worth participating?

A: YES, iGEM is worth taking part in it, both as a participant and as an observer. It will not only help you get better in biotechnology, and synthetic biology. But also, it will help you to know about the latest work being down in synthetic biology, and various problems that we face, and how they are solved.

Q: Is iGEM really a big deal?

A: In a way yes, iGEM is an important event, helped synthetic biology growth. Also, helped people from different places to come together and work on some common problems. Some of these people have gone off to build careers out of synthetic biology successfully and have also established some amazing startups.

Q: can more than one team from a single school/college/university take part in iGEM?

A: Yes, not only multiple teams from the same institution can take part in iGEM. But also, they will get a discount on their registration fees.

Q: can I be a part of the iGEM team, even though I am not a student of biology and other life sciences?

A: Yes, even if you are not a biology student, you can be a part of a team. As long as you can make some contribution to the team. If you are from engineering or computer field, you can work on some technical part of the project too. Moreover, if you are from the designing field, you can work on logo and such. There is no such thing as wasted talent in synthetic biology.

Q: Can I use the iGEM project idea to startup for my business?

A: Yes, but it depends on your skills and project potential to solve real-world problems. You have to work hard while staying motivated in the face of immense challenges.

Q: I want to register, but I can’t afford the registration fees, what should I do?

A: Well that does not mean that you cannot apply for iGEM, but if you have some financial problems, for that you have to start working early, and you have to do funding rising.

For funding, you can ask for financial assistance from your institution. Also, from some organization who support your cause, or even in some cases, your local government can also help you. Nowadays lots of synbio startups are also providing funding for iGEM teams. However, keep in mind, start early, keep working hard and do not lose hope.

Q: is there any age limit between the members of an iGEM team?

A: No, there is no age limit between the members. But if a team is from high school, then the team members, (not mentors, advisors PI) should be in high school. It is also the same for undergraduate and postgraduate teams.

Q: Is there any limit for team members?

A: Yes, team members should be 2-12.

Q. how to register an iGEM team?

A. You can register your team by visiting the iGEM official website.


Video: what is iGEM Competition?


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