Introduction: what is iGEM?
The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is the largest synthetic biology competition in the world. Teams of multidisciplinary and international students work together to explore novel solutions to global issues using synthetic biology. Simultaneously, the teams contribute to an open registry of interchangeable biological parts called BioBricks which facilitates the work for future iGEM teams.
The iGEM competition started as an independent course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in January 2003. In 2004, it became a summer competition with 5 teams participating and has now expanded to 310 teams and over 6000 participants in 2017, with teams from more than 40 different countries. As the number of participants in the competition increased, so did the complexity. Today, teams compete in tracks ranging from environment to manufacturing to therapeutics, to narrow the focus of the project. The students in iGEM Stockholm are free to choose which track they wish to compete in, making the iGEM experience a unique opportunity for students to explore interesting research fields. Additionally, iGEM strongly promotes respecting values such as honesty, respect, integrity and good sportsmanship, which are essential to warrant honest research and an objective competition.
The iGEM Stockholm teams begin their journey once the team leaders have selected suitable team members. During spring, the students brainstorm extensively to define a project idea and search for sponsoring opportunities from companies and institutions to finance the project. Reaching the summer holidays, the team enters the lab to produce results supporting their project idea. The project is tied together in the fall semester when the results are turned into a story to be presented on the wiki-page on the iGEM website. Finally, the project will be presented at the Giant Jamboree in Boston where it can be awarded Medals, Track Awards and/or Special Prizes depending on the scientific achievements as well as the efforts made to present the project and engage the public.
Continuously throughout the iGEM year, the students have to be self-driven to meet several deadlines as well as to ensure constant project development. The teams are also encouraged to collaborate with each other, creating an international platform where students can exchange knowledge and skills. This network is continuously growing and new opportunities are constantly arising for students who are or have been participating in iGEM. Furthermore, the iGEM network is not limited to students. Professors, PhD students and representatives from industry and organisations have also assisted in developing the projects, making iGEM a bridge between studies and working life.