Every year, students from around the world challenge themselves to fabricate biological machines. On the 10th anniversary of this brillant competition, held from October 30 to November 3, iGEM opens its doors to artists and “community labs”. Aurélien Dailly and Quitterie Largeteau will be there, reporting for Makery.
From October 30, the Hynes Convention Center in Boston will host the finals of the international synthetic biology competition iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine). North America, Latin America, Asia and Europe will all be represented. In total, no less than 245 teams are preparing to meet and present the projects they have been working on for the past several months.
iGEM, a Lego competition unlike any other
The iGEM competition comes straight out of MIT. For the past two years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, iGEM has spun off as an educational and scientific nonprofit organization, exploring the attractive field of synthetic biology and organizing an annual contest for synthetic biology students worldwide.
Remember that period of your life, when you could hardly contain your excitement before opening the newest box of Legos? You began to assemble the different bricks until the magnificent pirate ship of your dreams finally emerged. Synthetic biology is pretty much the same thing, with the same sparkles in the builders’ eyes, except that these Legos are made not of plastic but of DNA, and the box is a freezer!
These “biobricks”, as they are known in the jargon, combine at will within an organism, such as bacteria or yeast, to create a new biological system. From bacteria that produce pigments to those that can detect the presence of mercury in water, designing biosensors is becoming more and more accessible to all.
One of the particularities of iGEM, collaborative and open, is its shared documentation of each team’s project on dedicated wikis, which are freely accessible online. From one year to the next, the teams can learn from previously established protocols to develop their own strategies. Unfortunately, however, access to the “freezer” is reserved for iGEM participants.
2014, biohackers compete at iGEM
Synthetic biology can be applied to various fields, as expressed by the different sections of the competition: food, environment, energy, health, art and many others. This year, a new little one has joined the program: the “community labs” category.
Already last spring at Biohacking Safari, the biohacklabs documentation project led by La Paillasse in Paris, brains were bubbling from Victoria in British Columbia to San Francisco, and on the East Coast from Boston to Baltimore to New York City.
A team made up of the biohackerspaces CounterCultureLabs and BioCurious, both located in the San Francisco Bay Area, will present a rather original project to fabricate cheese. Based on yeast that synthesizes caseins (the main protein present in milk), they succeeded in fabricating a substitute for the white liquid. Then, after undergoing the conventional phases of cheese-making, the Real Vegan Cheese Project aims to be an alternative to animal-based cheese production.
Europe will also have its own community lab team, represented by London Biohackspace, who will be presenting their JuicyPrint project. Imagine bacteria quietly reproducing in a well-prepared juice… Once placed under a light source, they become capable of producing cellulose. This system, made especially for the event, is none other than a new form of biological 3D printing.
Dozens of scientific and artistic projects exploring synthetic biology, its applications and implications. A mixture of researchers, students, artists, designers and biohackers from all kinds of backgrounds. A competition. This weekend’s cocktail is already brewing. To be continued…
« E.Chromi », the project presented by Cambridge University’s iGEM team in 2009
« Fight Tuberculosis with Modern Weapons », wiki of the project presented by the Centre de recherches interdisciplinaires Paris Bettencourt team in 2013
iGEM coverage by Biohacking Safari was crowdfunded. All about their KissKissBankBank campaign.
Aurélien Dailly (@dailylaurel) and Quitterie Largeteau (@QuitterieL) met at La Paillasse, a biohacklab in Paris. He is a maker, photoreporter; she is a biologist, pro open science and communicator of sciences. Together, they lead Biohacking Safari, whose mission is to explore, connect and communicate open biology practices around the world.