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World Cup of Science

  • The winning Tribe:
    The winning Tribe:  Members of the William & Mary team celebrate their win on the stage of the iGEM Grand Jamboree.  Photo courtesy of iGEM
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An iGEM project is an excellent example of how science is done in the 21st century — team-based, multidisciplinary, quantitative and focused on the solution of difficult problems.

Each year, iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) hosts the largest synthetic biology competition in the world. It's a culmination of months-long, student-driven projects. Hundreds of student teams from the world’s major research institutions compete.

William & Mary teams have a reputation for doing incredibly well and attracting large audiences for their presentations. In fact, a William & Mary team won the iGEM Grand Prize in 2015, bringing home what has been dubbed the World Cup of Science. The 2017 team was named First Runner-Up, beating out all but one team.

iGEM projects are collaborative and interdisciplinary, requiring contributions from fields including - but not limited to - biology, mathematics, chemistry and engineering. iGEM is an open challenge, and the field of synthetic biology has a nearly limitless set of frontiers to explore. So the first task for each team is to figure out a project.

Each iGEM team receives a starter kit of BioBricks, an assortment of biomolecular components that can be assembled into biological circuits, much as an electrical engineer assembles resistors, diodes, etc. into circuits. During the summer, they use these parts and new parts of their own design to build biological systems and operate them in living cells. Teams are encouraged to model the biological functionality of new parts of their creation, and to characterize parts that exist in the registry. 

The iGEM ethos encourages teams to take on projects that build on earlier work, and also to create something that future synthetic biologists can use as a basis for the next level. Beyond the project itself, the iGEM competition strongly encourages each team to spread the synthetic-biology gospel beyond their lab and beyond their institution. 

The William & Mary iGEM team’s latest project was both a challenging and potentially valuable idea: figure out a way to control gene expression speed.

Watch the video to learn more: