Since 2007, teams of students from secondary and tertiary educational institutions all over the world have been competing to turn groundbreaking ideas in the field of synthetic biology into reality with a single year. The jurors attach great importance both to the actual research and the ability of the teams to bring the topic of synthetic biology out of the educational environment and to attention of the general public. At the end of the one-year competition period, the teams present the results of their projects in and outside the laboratory at a major conference.
Key features of the competition are the open access to all research data produced, provided via individual Wiki websites (as an example: the iGEM NAWI Graz Project 2018), and the ambition to combine synthetic biology with as many other research areas as possible.
In addition, the iGEM NAWI Graz team works closely with experts working in the fields of medicine and biology as well as industry to address concerns and remove biases about synthetic biology. Schools are visited to give pupils an insight into this new subject area.
The palm oil industry grew dramatically during recent decades due to rising demand. Its impact on the food, cosmetics and technology industries cannot be ignored. In response to the problems that have arisen, the team has focused on the production of palm kernel oil using genetically modified microorganisms. As part of the iGEM project, we had the opportunity to speak with experts from different fields about the current situation in the palm oil industry and survey members of the population regarding their palm oil consumption.
The iGEM competition enables students to apply their ideas and visions, gain experience in the independent organisation, plan and implement a project and cooperate with professors, company and organization representatives.
As part of the iGEM competition 2017, we developed a communication interface between robots and bacteria that is based on the detection of fluorescent dyes produced under different environmental conditions. As a practical application, a robot was guided through a labyrinth by genetically modified E. coli, which were in a homemade bioreactor. The project generated great interest in the final event in Boston, and we were able to win a silver medal.
In addition to the development of this interface, the team also used this opportunity to introduce the topic of synthetic biology to the general public through public events and school visits.
iGEM allows us to develop, prepare and ultimately implement our own projects, freely and without any guidelines, but nevertheless with the support of professors. That allows me to mature at a personal and technical level and to gather hands-on experience – experience that I would never have gained in my course.