The iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Foundation is a non-profit organization promoting the development of synthetic biology through competition, collaboration, and community. The iGEM Foundation promotes technological development within the field of synthetic biology with three main programs: the iGEM Competition, Labs Program, and Registry of Standard Biological Parts. It was founded in 2003 by Randy Rettberg and is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts.
Each year hundreds of teams build software, hardware, and wetware tools within certain research tracks. Teams comprise students at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate (called "overgrad" by the organizers) levels, although community labs are also eligible to field teams. Each team must complete tasks specific to their selected tracks to be eligible for a medal of either bronze, silver, or gold. There is no limit to how many medals can be awarded by judges—it is decided on the individual accomplishments of each team (i.e., all teams can win a gold medal).
Teams also compete for awards on top of medals. These include Track Awards (the top team in each track), Special Prizes (such as Best Wiki or Best Education & Public Engagement), and the Grand Prize (the top overall teams at each level). Judges decide the top three teams at the undergraduate level, the top two teams at the overgraduate level, and the top team at the high school level. The iGEM Competition begins each February with team formation and fundraising efforts and culminates at the iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston, Massachusetts in late October or early November.
Teams compete in the following iGEM Giant Jamboree tracks:
- Food & Nutrition
- Foundational Advance
- High School
- Information Processing
- New Application
- Open (special track)
- Software (special track)
The Open Track includes all other tracks from previous years, except for Software, including Hardware, Measurement, and Art & Design, and other projects in Human Practices.
Grand Prize Winner
1st Runner up
Best Energy Project
Individuals from industry and academia volunteer to judge the iGEM Competition each year. They score teams on various metrics, including the quality of the Wiki, final presentation, poster, and the technical accomplishments of the project itself. There are also track-specific scoring rubrics.
The iGEM Competition has grown from five teams in 2004 to 310 in 2017. The iGEM Foundation states the competition has over 30,000 alumni, but this number is likely an overestimate that includes double-counting of individuals who have participated in multiple years.
Participants and teams per year
The Wiki Freeze occurs each year, marked by the deadline for making edits to a team's wiki page for their project. It has become a jokingly terrifying hallmark of the iGEM Competition.
Over two dozen companies in the field of synthetic biology were started by iGEM alumni, including many that spawned from projects developed as part of the iGEM Competition.
Start-ups launched by iGEM alumni
Academic labs can subscribe to the iGEM Foundation's Labs Program, which was started in 2004. Labs participating in the program have access to the Standard Registry of Biological Parts, receive all kits distributed to teams competing in the iGEM Competition, can have their lab website hosted on the iGEM wiki, and are eligible for discounts to attend the iGEM Giant Jamboree. Labs are asked to operate with the same "Get & Give" philosophy as teams participating in the iGEM Competition and provide documentation for and samples of parts they make. The annual subscription fee for the Labs Program is $500. Participating labs are limited to three separate requests for parts each year and twenty-five parts per request, or seventy-five parts per year.
As the registry has grown over the years, some individuals in the field have questioned the level of quality. Not all parts in the registry have robust supporting documentation or work as intended. Some of the parts may even infringe on intellectual property rights.
In 2016, the iGEM Foundation reported $3.502 million in revenue, including $3.123 million, or 89 percent, from all iGEM program fees. The organization recorded $3.306 million in expenses, including $2.747 million, or 83 percent, from the iGEM Competition. The remaining $0.559 million in expenses comprised administrative fees.
On June 14, 2018, iGEM announced that it would be partnering with Ginkgo Bioworks. Ginkgo Bioworks committed to being the lead partner for the 2018 International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition. Ginkgo Bioworks had a history of participating in iGEM programs and desired to give back to the iGEM community. The CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, Jason Kelly, stated
As early graduates ourselves, we're humbled to now be in a position where we can give back in such a meaningful way to a partner that shares our values on technology, responsibility, and local action.
Ginkgo Bioworks Marks 10-Year Anniversary with iGEM Partnership
iGEM 2.0 are foundations for engineering biology
Carlson, R.H., Jerala, R., Vilanova, C., Materi, W., Majerle, A., Gersbach, C.A., Reis, Y., PeretÃ³, J., Lim, W.A., Gordon, S.R., Kwok, R., Goodman, C., Endy, D., Helman, N.C., Gaj, T., Mancek-Keber, M., Guan, Z., Mori, J., Yan, S., Sander, C., Pristovsek, P., Porcar, M., Cristina Vilanova, Campos, L., Barbas, C.F.
PLOS iGEM 2017 Collection – report | PLOS Collections
What is iGEM: An Introduction to iGEM
July 10, 2013
- Synthetic biologySynthetic biology is a multidisciplinary area of research that seeks to create new biological parts, devices, and systems or redesign systems already found in nature to have new abilities.
- Nonprofit organizationOrganization that uses its income to achieve its goals rather than distributing it as profit or dividends.
- CRISPRClustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) is a prokaryotic adaptive immune response that provides immunity against foreign nucleic acids, such as viral DNA and bacterial plasmids, through the use of crRNAs (CRISPR RNAs) and associated Cas genes.
- GeneticsScience of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms.
- Genetic engineeringDirect manipulation of an organism's genome using biotechnology
- Ginkgo BioworksGinkgo Bioworks is a synthetic biology and biotechnology company using machine learning techniques and lab automation to engineer microorganisms as a service.
- SynBioBetaSynBioBeta is a company that has created a network that is intended to connect various professions through the biological technology industry through conferences, educational courses, and other resources.
- Show More