How iGEM blows our minds, again and again

by Cornelia Scheitz, Autodesk Life Sciences

This year, the Autodesk Life Sciences team sent 2 judges to the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition – short iGEM. 310 teams of high-school, undergraduate or over graduate students from 44 countries competed for the lego brick inspired trophies that have been awarded for 13 years now. Student teams come together in the summer to design and complete their projects – they usually work up until mid-October to finish all their experiments and analyses. That makes it roughly 5 months per project – and the creativity and achievements of the students are incredible – this year was no exception.

While this is a competition based on genetics, the outcomes are usually much more holistic. Thoughtful consideration of human practices, careful mathematical modeling before executing the most promising experiments in the wet lab, public engagement and general engineering practices are present in every project. The exceptional projects include business plans, patents, as well as physical devices to hold the biological filters or test kits.

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Image credit to Twitter @TUDelft_iGEM

The overall winner in the over graduate category is TU Delft developing a anti-biotic resistance test kit that can be used in the field. And I mean that literally. It can be used in the barn to test anti-biotic resistance in milk cows. While they have not only developed the test and the readout technology, they also engineered new proteins to dramatically improve the shelf life of their kits at room temperature.  Moreover, the technology they employed can be easily adapted to any areas where biological signatures need to be detected in a low-tech way.

The over graduate project winning in the Applied Design category came from Exeter this year. Their engineered bacteria can filter metals from water. In addition to the bacteria, they also engineered a hydroclone and a metal binding reactor. They simulated water flow using CAD and fluidics tools, then finally constructor a small-scale prototype that was demonstrated in Boston.

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Image credit to Twitter @exeter_igem

Keep in mind, all of this is happening in 5 months!!! Truly inspiriting and impressive.As a final note – BiotaBeats created a music track generated by the collective of sampled bacteria from 131 teams. Sounds crazy? Yes it is. But check out the final result -creative and fun!

So while this competition is based on biology, you can geek out in any area of your passion, whether it’s engineering, statistics, modeling, software development and much more.

Check out their ever-growing community and let us know if you want to join us next year!

Merry Wang

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