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

Randy Rettberg, Co-founder and President of iGEM, discusses the 2016 iGEM competition in this video interview. Learn about his vision for the future for the students that participate in iGEM, as well as the future of synthetic biology.

Dec 6, 2016

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. Find out about IDT current support for iGEM teams at

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.