iGEM teams are ready to push the boundaries of SynBio at the 2022 Jamboree
For the last 19 years, iGEM Competition teams have pushed the boundaries of synthetic biology to help solve the world’s biggest problems. Undergraduate and graduate university students around the globe form teams and develop projects that focus on creating solutions to a variety of challenges—ranging from bioremediation to therapeutic treatments and sustainable materials. Teams collaborate with each other, academic experts, stakeholders, and communities to secure funding, gather materials, and deliver a successful project at the annual iGEM Jamboree. This year, the teams, judges, sponsors, and industry leaders will meet in Paris, France October 26-28, 2022.
Each year, IDT provides iGEM participants with free materials to advance their projects, including gBlocks™ Gene Fragments, custom DNA oligos, primers, Ultramers™ DNA oligonucleotides, and more. We chatted with four of the 350+ iGEM teams to learn more about their journey and projects in the lead-up to the competition:
iGEM Calgary, who used our gblocks Gene Fragments and custom DNA oligos for their project Cellucoat
iGEM Uni-Hamburg, who used our gblocks Gene Fragments and primers for their project SPEAR—Sensing Pathogens and Emerging Antibiotic Resistances
iGEM Tec CEM, who synthesized two sequences for the biosensor, one sequence for the degradation system, and other two for their resistance marker for their project Hydrodefense
iGEM Montpellier, who used DNA synthesis to produce in vitro various pathogen sequences and RNA synthesis to produce probes for their project SHELL'LOCK.
Without sponsorship, most teams would not be able to carry out important parts of their projects. For example, iGEM Tec CEM could not have produced their recombinant proteins as quickly and efficiently. Gene Synthesis allowed iGEM Montpellier to have extremely precise probes, which is the center of their project. iGEM Calgary and iGEM Uni-Hamburg relied on the simple and speedy nature of ordering from IDT to get started quickly and make design changes as needed.
Here’s more of what the teams had to say ahead of the competition.
What inspired you to participate in the iGEM Competition?
Unlike other streamlined research opportunities for undergraduate students, iGEM allows for creativity and innovation. We were inspired by the ability to tackle real-world problems using science and entrepreneurial thinking. Competing in the iGEM Competition will allow us to showcase our novel solution to the world.
In Hamburg, we always start off the school year with a presentation of the past iGEM Team that is just back from the Jamboree. They always have inspiring stories to tell about their journey. In general, the possibility to work independently with a group of fellow students to solve real world problems is great. And the iGEM way—collaborating with other teams and sharing our experiences—is motivating and inspiring for all of us.
iGEM Tec CEM
What inspires us daily is the opportunity to create something that will have a beneficial impact in our community. That with our brains, hands, and creativity, we can contribute to this world. We have also learned from experts in the field, teachers, students, other iGEM teams, and we think that’s amazing. To us, iGEM means acquiring and giving knowledge, not only technical, but also human.
We believe as a team that synthetic biology can be used to bring solutions to complicated modern problems. A competition like iGEM pushes creativity and creates innovative ideas that advance science.
What problem is your project looking to solve?
As Canada begins to implement legislation on banning single-use plastics, our team was inspired to use synthetic biology to create a sustainable and preservative-free packaging material for fruits and vegetables. Cellucoat is made of bacterial cellulose (BC), which has been functionalized with antimicrobial peptides and strengthened with bioplastics.
Project: SPEAR—Sensing Pathogens and Emerging Antibiotic Resistances
Resistant germs are a growing problem in our world. Many teams are trying to solve it with, for example, new antibiotics. We are focusing on fast and easy detection of the RNA of bacteria and their resistances.
iGEM Tec CEM
The problem we are trying to solve is endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in water. Water is polluted in many ways in multiple steps of the water cycle. We are focusing on irrigation water, which leads to animal and human ingestion. EDCs create morphological and biochemical changes, which can lead to humans and animals contracting serious diseases.
Montpellier harbors on the few oyster production locations in France, thanks to the Thau lagoon unique ecosystem. However, up to 80% of the production is lost every year, due to various pathogens. Our team's project is to develop a simple and rapid test for oyster farmers to detect the early presence of a specific pathogen called vibrio aesturianus.
What's the most surprising issue that you uncovered during your project?
Troubleshooting will take much longer than you think! One of our mentors jokingly told us at the beginning of the project that "everything that can go wrong, will go wrong" and so far, that statement has rang true. But when things finally do go right, it's one of the most rewarding parts about problem solving.
The ordering process to even get to work in the wet lab is enormous. Every sponsorship that we got helped us a great deal in getting started.
iGEM Tec CEM
That 6 grams of Bisphenol A (a type of EDC) can kill a rat within minutes, and 400 grams can kill a 70kg adult. This nowadays sounds silly to imagine, because the known concentrations found in water and food are low. But, in how many years we will find this concentration in a glass of water? In the sea? In crops? Since the use of plastics are incrementing exponentially, residues such as microplastics and EDCs will increment as well.
Molecular biology has a random dimension that is hard to grasp and to predict. Experiments with similar conditions can bring different results. Molecular biology experiments are governed by an immense number of parameters we don't realize.
What has been the most memorable part of your iGEM experience so far?
Meeting new people and getting to discover our capabilities as scientists!
We hosted the iGEM European Meetup. It was inspiring to see all teams with the same goal as us: make the world a better place. Some teams were already quite far in their journey, others had similar issues to ours, but we are all in this together!
iGEM Tec CEM
The collaborative work between:
- Teammates—we all realize that our work and responsibility is essential for a good outcome, and that the abilities of everyone add value to the project.
- iGEM teams—we all have different strengths and sharing them to all grow together shows us that science is about just that: creating with others, for others. This is not just a competition between us.
- Institutions interested in students’ potential, from our own school to our sponsors (like IDT) that support us with trust and resources to become part of a solution.
We went and discussed with oyster farmers to further tailor our project to their needs. Being able to discuss the primary subject with the ones who will be impacted most made us realized how useful our project could be to them.
Final thoughts from IDT
We look forward to connecting with all teams, learning about their projects, and seeing how the next generation of scientists are pushing synthetic biology forward at the iGEM Grand Jamboree. Best of luck to all teams competing!
*RUO—For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures. Unless otherwise agreed to in writing, IDT does not intend for these products to be used in clinical applications and does not warrant their fitness or suitability for any clinical diagnostic use. Purchaser is solely responsible for all decisions regarding the use of these products and any associated regulatory or legal obligations.