iGEM 2018 Recap

Last Sunday, October 28, the 2018 Giant Jamboree had wrapped up. Teams competed in tracks such as Environment, Therapeutic, Diagnostics, Manufacturing, New Application, and more; check out the project abstracts for further information. Both the Edinburgh Undergrad and Overgrad team finished with Gold Medals out of the three medal criteria (Bronze, Silver, and Gold), and the Edinburgh Undergrad team was nominated for the Best Foundational Advance Project. Ultimately, Marburg took 1st place for overgrad and Valencia UPV took the trophy for undergrad.

Marburg team proposed the “world’s fastest cloning platform, the Marburg Collection” tailored to V. natriegens. V. natriegens is the fastest growing bacterium, which gives advantage over traditionally used E. coli for faster research.

Valencia UPV developed Printeria, a fully-equipped bioengineering device, to spread the applicability of synthetic biology. Printeria allows easy operation of printing genetic circuits in bacteria. With this device, the user can assemble domesticated DNA parts and transform those parts in a cell culture as easy as operating a home printer.

 

Challenges

Before the avant garde competition, prizes, and a trip to Boston, each team worked hard through the summer dealing with challenges they might not have expected to encounter. These challenges include both experimental and non-experimental such as administration. The Edinburgh Overgrad team was happy to share a few of their hurdles: the most challenging part was of course assembling BioBricks, specifically to construct plasmids with appropriate components for E.coli to produce the bioplastic PHBV. You can have a look at the full project description here.

One of the non-experimental difficulties they faced was funding. Without proper funding, they had to modify their project pathway. The team measured the melting temperature of their sample to infer the PHBV co-polymer composition quantity. The team also used GCMS (gas chromatography–mass spectrometry) to identify the composition of the PHBV co-polymer, but due to limited funding, their time with GCMS was cut short; they weren’t able to afford GCMS until August, close to the wiki freeze (iGEM deadline).

 

Aftermath

Some members of Edinburgh University team had participated before as an undergrad and appreciated the experience once more, while others have experienced iGEM for the first time. One of the members mentioned networking as one of the favorite aspects of iGEM, and how Jason Kelly, Tom Knight (Ginkgo Bioworks) and George Church (Harvard University) showed up to enjoy the show. Whether the members decide to pursue academia or industry, iGEM’s networking event allowed members to connect with principal investors (PIs) and professionals. They also have an alumni system (AlumniGEM) where past alumni continue to promote community-driven projects that encourage spread of Synthetic Biology. Few of the team members mentioned how they would like to become mentors and ambassadors of iGEM.

The Edinburgh Overgrad Team doesn’t have any further plans in continuing their project. However, judges and poster visitors inquired whether they would be spinning out a startup company with the idea, which is not uncommon. The Munich team, the runner up for overgrad, created Phactory to lower the costs of phage therapy, and is looking into making it a startup.

 

Congrats to everyone that took part in this year’s iGEM! We are looking forward to see how some of these ideas advance in real life!

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