International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) is an international competition dedicated to education and the advancement of synthetic biology. Each year, we assemble an interdisciplinary group of undergraduates with the common goal of creating a better world through science and engineering. The annual competition draws together student teams from around the globe to present their synthetic biology projects that aim to address 21st century grand challenges.
These projects present an unparalleled opportunity for talented students to gain hands-on experience, as well as learn to collaborate and communicate effectively in large team environments. The students lead, design, and build the project themselves, and in doing so, develop the critical analytical and independent problem-solving skills that are difficult to cultivate within the classroom. The project also calls upon a wide array of disciplines, such as microbial engineering, bioinformatics, bioreactor design, and finance, which grant students a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to complete ambitious projects in a real-world environment.
Lastly, we are not just completing a project—we’re building a team. The dedicated students of the iGEM team are working 40+ hours each week, and are developing their project management and teamwork skills all the while. We believe that through the ambitious projects of today, we are building the leaders and scientific innovators of tomorrow.
10 years of iGEM at UC Santa Cruz
Progenie began its journey with the goal of combatting Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), an agricultural and health issue in the local community. The solution was a method to disarm pathogenic bacteria without the need for antibiotics, instead utilizing sequence-specific gene elimination in the target bacterium.
Plastic coverings are a necessary part of strawberry growing, but regular polyethylene plastics break down into microplastics that are damaging to the environment. This project’s focus was to design a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from bacterial cellulose (BC) to replace contemporary agricultural films.
Vitrum comes from the latin word for glass which derives from our method to induce thermal stability of the Newcastle virus by surrounding it by a “glass shell.” For this project, the team tested three different transformation methods to create heat stability and protect the live Newcastle Disease vaccine.
The 2018 UCSC iGEM team addressed the global lack of family planning services by localizing contraception production and increasing availability in resource constrained communities. The goal was to create a progesterone-producing yeast strain that grows on dairy, creating a sustainable and affordable “grow at home” contraceptive for women anywhere in the world.
Bugs Without Borders aims to decentralize production of medical and dietary supplements by engineering the alkali photoautotroph, Arthrospira platensis, commonly referred to as Spirulina. A. platensis is the most quintessential organism for growth at “on-site” healthcare facilities due to its modest media cost, alkali growth conditions, and its inherent properties as a nutritional “superfood”.
At its core, the purpose of the 2016 UCSC iGEM Team was to transform the two distinct crises of agricultural waste and the rising obesity rates epidemic into one, mutual solution via the application of synthetic biology. The goal was to convert agricultural by-products into a high value, zero-calorie sweetener, while also expanding accessibility to zero-calorie options by reducing costs for non-caloric sweeteners.
Cellulose to Butanol
Continued usage of petroleum-based fuels has resulted in increased amounts of pollution due to their prolonged carbon chain. The 2015 iGEM team addressed this problem by engineering a micro-organism to improve biofuel production. The goal was to improve the efficiency of this process and create a more sustainable method of bio-butanol production.
iGEM in the News
Former iGEM captain Pavle Jeremic creates a synthetic biology startup to help end scarcity
Bioengineering alumnus Pavel Jeremic is the founder of Aether Biomachines, which uses machine learning and automation to manufacture industrially useful enzymes.