Synthetic Biology
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iGEM, and the vision for the next generation of synthetic biology researchers

An interview with iGEM President, Randy Rettberg

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition assembles multidisciplinary teams of students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, art/design, and marketing, to design and build biological systems that aim at solving real world problems. The event began as a month-long course at MIT in 2003, and the following summer transitioned into a competition between teams from 5 universities. From humble beginnings, iGEM competition has since grown into an international event, with 300 teams from around the world participating in 2016.

While scientific research forms the core of the competition, the iGEM event is about more than just executing the best project. Randy Rettberg is a charismatic visionary who helped create the competition and now serves as president of the iGEM organization. Randy sees the students who participate in iGEM as part of a revolution in synthetic biology and, as key players for making and promoting scientific progress. In this recorded interview, Randy describes many of the aspects of the competition including, how the teams are formed, how they raise funds for their projects, the importance of creating public awareness, and ethical conduct.

In the video, Randy also talks about the value of IDT’s contributions to iGEM. As part of our commitment to sustainability and scientific education, IDT has supported the iGEM participants in their efforts to create solutions to all kinds environmental, medical, and technical problems. In 2016, over 250 teams took advantage of our offer to receive up to 20 kb of gBlocks™ Gene Fragments for free. gBlocks Gene Fragments are completely custom, high quality, double-stranded DNA that the teams can use to build new genes or modify existing ones to produce a desired function. Gene fragments can also be used to generate control sequences, enzyme substrates, or anything else that requires double-stranded DNA. Given that the teams have varying amounts of financial support, the availability of 20 kb of DNA gives every team a greater chance of successfully building and testing their ideas.

As in previous years, we traveled to the Giant Jamboree in Boston to celebrate with the teams. IDT hosted a lounge with refreshments and a theme that captured the giant fun and excitement of the competition. We congratulate all of the teams for their innovation and optimist view for the future, and we look forward to supporting new teams in years to come.

Product focus—custom dsDNA fragments

gBlocks® Gene Fragments

These double-stranded, sequence-verified, DNA genomic blocks, 125–3000 bp in length, are designed by you, and are shipped in 2–5 working days for affordable and easy gene construction or modification. They have been used in a wide range of applications including antibody research, codon optimization, mutagenesis, CRISPR genome editing, and aptamer expression. They can also be used for generating qPCR standards.

gBlocks Gene Fragments Libraries

gBlocks Gene Fragments are also available as dsDNA fragment pools that contain up to 18 consecutive variable bases (N or K) for recombinant antibody generation or protein engineering.

Learn more about gBlocks Gene Fragments at

Further reading

Read these 4 stories summarizing the projects of the winning 2015 iGEM teams:

  • Measuring promoter-driven transcriptional noise in E. coli—Research profile: Read about how gBlocks® Gene Fragments facilitated the College of William & Mary’s iGEM project on promoter stochasticity (“noise”), which won the Grand Prize at the 2015 iGEM Giant Jamboree. The team applied Elowitz’s promoter evaluation method to the 3 most frequently used promoters in the iGEM BioBrick registry and found significant differences in promoter function.
  • “Boomerang”—targeting cancer treatments to cancer cells—Research profile: Read about how the 2015 Ben-Gurion iGEM team developed a CRISPR-Cas9 transactivation system into a highly specific cancer targeting tool, with both diagnostic and therapeutic potential.
  • Czech Republic iGEM team’s diagnostic for circulating tumor cells—Research profile: Read how students participating on the Czech Republic’s first iGEM team reprogram yeast cells to identify circulating tumor cells. Their project, the IOD Band, could become a general diagnostic test for early detection and mapping of tumor cell mobility. IDT gBlocks® Gene Fragments facilitated rapid, construct assembly of IOD Band receptor molecules.
  • Functional nucleic acids as antibody alternatives for small molecule detection—Research profile: Learn how 2015 iGEM Team Heidelberg students applied functional nucleic acids to design high-affinity, ligand-specific aptamers, in just hours, and without SELEX. They used their aptamers to replace conventional antibodies in western blots to successfully detect target proteins. Additional projects addressed repair of the mutated CFTR mRNA expressed by people afflicted iwth cystic fibrosis, and development of an in-the-field date rape drug test strip. Thweir DNA aptamer sequence designs were synthesized as single-stranded DNA oligonnulceotides by IDT.

Learn more about gBlocks Gene Fragments and their applications:

Review other DECODED Online newsletter articles on synthetic biology applications.

You can also browse our DECODED Online newsletter for additional application reviews, lab tips, and citation summaries to facilitate your research.

Author: Hans Packer, PhD, is a scientific writer at IDT.

© 2016 Integrated DNA Technologies. All rights reserved. Trademarks contained herein are the property of Integrated DNA Technologies, Inc. or their respective owners. For specific trademark and licensing information, see

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