Student Group Profile: iGEM

Competition, collaboration, and community.

Andrew Lyle - 21 September 2018

"It can be intimidating coming in and looking to dip your toes into research, but something like iGEM is completely student-driven and mostly self-supervised, with professors that can offer insight. I think that opportunity really helps people feel more confident.

Heather Baker, biochemistry honours student, member of the UAlberta iGEM 2017 team, and mentor to the 2018 team

The International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) is a synthetic biology competition that brings together over 300 university teams from around the world. Students are tasked with creating new biological components and presenting their research at the annual Giant Jamboree with a poster, presentation, and website. Teams are judged based on their creativity, documentation, and the human impact of their findings.

The 2018 iGEM student team is made up of a multidisciplinary group of undergraduate students and advisors from the Faculties of Science, Medicine and Dentistry, Engineering, and the Arts. In 2017, the UAlberta iGEM team won a gold medal for the standard of their research at the annual Giant Jamboree. The three-day event is the chance for teams to showcase their creativity and share their work with fellow students, as well as present their findings to judges.

Competition, collaboration, and community

iGEM challenges students to harness synthetic biology to shape the future, with teams submitting projects in every field from healthcare to energy to art. Part of the challenge for teams every year is deciding which of the many fields to submit their project in. In 2017, the iGEM team created a system that helps find desired proteins by making them float; this let them explore how to make a common synthetic biology screening process quicker and cheaper. Each year, the teams create biological components, or parts, that are added to the iGEM Parts Registry, allowing subsequent competitions to have access to this wealth of research.

This open-source approach to synthetic biology creates a supportive community in iGEM, and participants are often inspired by the work of previous years' teams. The diverse perspectives that come from collaboration-both within iGEM and beyond-are elements that the iGEM team is looking forward to from the community at the Student Innovation Centre.

Helping hives thrive

For 2018, the iGEM UAlberta team is jumping into the environmental and food science fields, focusing their efforts on synthetic biological components to combat a fungus that damages beehives. iGEM teams are encouraged to look at the human impact of their research, and hive health is critical to the honey industry in Alberta. With Albertans producing over a third of Canada's honey valued at over $50 million a year, the 2018 iGEM team is looking to not only help bee populations, but people in their community as well.