The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is a worldwide synthetic biology competition (see http://www.igem.org) that is primarily aimed at undergraduate university students. Teams are usually highly multi-disciplinary, covering wet (e.g. cloning, protein expression) and dry lab (e.g. mathematical modelling) approaches. ‘Human practices’ are a key part of iGEM, with students expected to participate in outreach events.
Students present their project both orally and in the form of a poster at a ‘regional’ (European) jamboree, with the most successful teams going forward to the ‘world’ jamboree held at MIT. This year is the 10th anniversary of the iGEM competition so exceptionally there are no regional jamborees, with all teams instead attending a Giant Jamboree at MIT from October 30 – November 3, 2014.
iGEM began in January of 2003 with a month-long course at MIT during their Independent Activities Period (IAP). The students designed biological systems to make cells blink. This design course grew to a summer competition with 5 teams in 2004, 13 teams in 2005 – the first year that the competition grew internationally – 32 teams in 2006, 54 teams in 2007, 84 teams in 2008, 112 teams in 2009, 130 teams in 2010, 165 teams in 2011, and 245 teams in 2012 and 2013. Projects range from a rainbow of pigmented bacteria, to banana and wintergreen smelling bacteria, an arsenic biosensor, Bactoblood, and buoyant bacteria.
Getting a team together
Funding has been obtained from BBSRC, the Society for General Microbiology and the Biochemical Society to help support UK and Northern Irish iGEM teams. Applications are therefore welcome from University Academics who hope to run iGEM teams for the 2014 competition.