Machine engineering at the genetic level

WE THINK of engineering as the creation of machines, while genetic engineering is the manipulation of genomes. These two disciplines come together in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGem) competition, which encourages students to exploit the growing power of biotechnology to build novel biological systems, and operate them within living cells.

iGem, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition, is a focus for sythetic biology

This annual synthetic biology competition began in 2003 at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technlogy, USA), in a challenge to students to devise a bioengineered system to make cells ‘blink’. This course developed into a competition, which has grown faster than a bacterial colony on a warm agar plate. Five teams competed in 2004, growing to 160 by 2011.

In that year, over 2000 students from 30 countries took part in the event, to specify, design, build, and test simple biological systems made from standard, interchangeable biological parts.

Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) is a sponsoring partner, offering assistance to individual iGem student teams. 11 teams were sponsored by IDT in 2011, and provided with credit to obtain the company’s products including oligonucleotide primers and synthetic genes for use in their research projects.

The 2011 Cornell team’s Biofactory consisted of microfluidic devices in series, to synthesise the steps of a specific biochemical pathway

Among the results were a natural antifreeze, a biofactory to reproduce chemical reactions ex vivo, vitamin-expressing bread, and a tailings pond metabolism kit. Four of the projects sponsored by IDT are described in detail in the latest issue of the company’s newsletter, Decoded.

Main registration for the 2012 iGem competition has closed, but a late registration possibility remains open until 1 May 2012. IDT is again offering sponsorship and support to selected teams.

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