In 2021, a team of young scientists from Toulouse, sponsored and supported by BioEco won the top prize in the prestigious iGEM competition. This annual, globally renowned event, has been running for almost two decades, involving more than 70,000 participants to-date. The focus of the contest is denoted by the iGEM acronym, which stands for international genetically engineered machine.
Indeed, at its inception, the competition was founded in order to bolster the synthetic biology industry. An attractive and exciting proposition, the iGEM has nurtured and developed new talent by providing a “sandbox” environment for innovation in this field.
Rather than being given a specific brief, iGEM teams have total license to focus on a project appropriate to their skillset and interests (note, teams are generally multidisciplinary). This multidisciplinary approach towards a specific field of science or project is something one would recognise in BioEco’s approach to teaching and learning, as can be seen in the circular economy blog. Perhaps, therefore, it isn’t a huge surprise that iGEM team from Toulouse, backed by BioEco, performed so strongly in last year’s competition. The team took advantage of the breadth of their studies in biotechnology, and the wealth of academic and research facilities in Toulouse and its surrounds to become the first ever French team to win the flagship under-23 award category.
The team created “Elixio” a project that demonstrated certain fragrances could be simply recreated through synthetic biology. Focusing on recreating the scent of the violet flower (considered “mute flower” since its smell is impossible to extract), the team were judged on the production of a wiki, a project video, a presentation – and of course, the quality of their research and practical experiments. To find out more about this fascinating project, and the team’s success, visit their project homepage.
What is the iGEM Jamboree?
The iGEM Jamboree is the focal point of the entire competition – it is not only what all the teams are working towards, but a chance for students from around the world to collaborate, knowledge share, and simply to make new friends from within the scientific community.
It is at the iGEM Jamboree that all iGEM projects are presented and evaluated by the judging panel. This year, after two years of remote Jamborees, for the first time the event will take place in Europe – in Paris, no less. France’s capital will play host to 7,000 attendees from more than 40 countries, who will present 400 iGEM projects over the course of a packed two-day agenda.
The iGEM Jamboree is more than just an opportunity to present research and engage with other students. It is, being the world’s largest synthetic biology showcase, an opportunity to engage with researchers, industry, investors, start-ups, and policy makers from across the industry.
For more information about this year’s Jamboree, visit the iGEM website or social media platforms.
Joining different iGEM teams
At the heart of the iGEM, are the iGEM teams. These groups of passionate students are split into three categories based upon what stage they are at in their education. The iGEM contest defines these as “overgrad”, “undergrad”, and “high school”. Toulouse’s successful 2021 team, supported by BioEco, contested the “undergrad” competition.
If you are wondering how to be part of iGEM Toulouse, don’t hesitate to get in touch, or connect with them via their social platforms. Alternatively, speak with the staff at your university or school. Given its global reach, you’ll likely find iGEM teams wherever you are based in the world.
To start an iGEM team, you first must register online. There are some stipulations when it comes to recruiting team members. Although there is no limit to the number of members a team can have, between eight and 15 is recommended by the competition organisers – and diversity is strongly encouraged. While the Toulouse team was regionally based, this isn’t a requirement when putting the team together. iGEM projects are often collaborative, with different institutions, sometimes from different countries, working together. iGEM teams are self-funded and so costing out the full extent of the project ought to be an early task for a new team.
It is worth noting, if you are considering joining an iGEM team, there is an obligation to commit to a schedule of work. For example, 12 deliverables are required of each team, each with specific deadlines and format requirements. In fact, should certain deliverables be missed, such as completion of safety forms, iGEM teams can face disqualification. Forward planning and careful organisation tend to underpin the most successful iGEM projects and is highly advisable.
Judging the best iGEM projects
With at least 350 showcased at each Jamboree, judging the best iGEM projects is no small task for the panel. As such, it’s a detailed process, and vital to the success of the iGEM competition as a whole.
During the Jamboree, judges will evaluate each iGEM project in turn. As well as a question-and-answer session, every team’s wiki, presentation, and supporting assets will all be assessed. In the interests of fairness, the judges follow a specific assessment criteria or rubric – all of which is detailed on the iGEM website.
The best iGEM projects aren’t necessarily just the outright winners. In fact, there are a range of prizes available to allow for a wide range of quality projects and examples of team work to be celebrated. As well as the Grand Prizes, there are bronze, silver, and gold medals as well as special prizes for excellence in various fields such as education, inclusivity, and sustainability among many others.
Again, the iGEM website is an excellent resource for additional information, and a full list of the available prizes and awards can be found there.
Have you been inspired to take part in the iGEM? The team at BioEco would love to hear your ideas and discuss how they might become a reality.