The iGEM competition: where engineering meets biology This summer a cross-disciplinary team of Brown students will enter the MIT based iGEM competition. The challenge is to design and implement a genetically engineered machine using drawing on tools from hard sciences such as, biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics.
Synthetic Biology: A new field Science is constantly in a state of flux and the lines between the hard sciences are continually being redrawn. In the last decade, the life sciences revolution has continued to grow, but a new type of biology is on the horizon. Synthetic biology to not only decipher how DNA holds information, but to harness this understanding to produce novel biological machines. To this end, the field calls upon the knowledge and accomplishments of related disciplines. With the combined intellectual resources of the hard science, synthetic biological research will be at the forefront research in the coming years.
"Can simple biological systems be built from standard, interchangeable parts and operated in living cells? Or, is biology simply too complicated to be engineered in this way?" [Knight, 2005]
The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) was developed to address this question. The competition challenges students to design and implement a machine capable of performing an engineered task. Unlike other engineering challenges, the machines produced by these competitors are transcribed from DNA sequences, rather than blue prints, and the constituent parts are RNA, proteins and cells, instead of steel. This project bridges fields from biology through engineering and computer science and demonstrates the essential nature of an interdisciplinary approach to hard scientific research.
| High-profile international competition
"Started in 2003, MIT students created biological oscillators coupled to fluorescent reporters. The summer of 2004 brought the first Synthetic Biology Competition. Student teams from five schools (Princeton, MIT, Caltech, UT Austin, and Boston University) and competed to build cellular state machines and counters. The teams gathered in early November to compare their results. The most graphic project was "photographic biofilm" that could capture an image.
In the summer of 2005, student teams from thirteen schools (Berkeley, Caltech, Cambridge UK, Davidson, ETH Zurich, Harvard, MIT, Oklahoma, Penn State, Princeton, Toronto, UCSF, and UT Austin) participated in the 2005 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Later, during the first weekend of November, over 150 of these students, instructors, and PIs came together to share and celebrate their work.
The iGEM 2005 student projects displayed the designs of chemotaxis regulation systems, cell-cell genetic communications systems, cellular/biological wires, thermometers, biological sketch pads (drawing systems), cellular relay races, a digital counter, and many more.
At the core of these activities is the notion of a standard biological part that is well specified and able to be paired with other parts into subassemblies and whole systems. Once the parameters of these parts are determined and standardized, simulation and design of genetic systems will become easier and more reliable."[Knight 2005]
Student led research at Brown The main competition takes place over the summer with students spending their time designing novel engineered parts, modeling biochemical reactions and then implementing these designs in the lab. Here at Brown we already have support and offers of lab space from Gary Wessel in Molecular-Cellular Biology (MCB), Marc Tatar in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and offers from a number of faculty ranging from engineering, computer science and physics to join a multidisciplinary cross-campus faculty advisory board. This mentoring board will meet each week in order for students to report progress and to discuss ideas. The project gives students the opportunity to become directly involved with research at Brown. Previous entries in the iGEM competition have been published in Nature. [Engineering E.Coli to see light, 2005]
Table of needs:
We hope to get departmental and university sponsorship to cover the following costs.
|8 undergraduate summer support stipends ($3500 x 8)||$ 28,000|
|DNA Synthesis costs||$ 4,000|
|Lab reagents||$ 7,000|
|Travel costs to MIT events, invited talk expenses||$ 1,000|
The future of iGEM
We hope that in coming years the Brown iGEM team can continue to grow, taking on new students and continuing research in synthetic biology. We hope to find industry sponsorship to support the competition.
Cross campus faculty support and mentoring
Marc Tatar - Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Gary Wessel - Professor of Biology
Alex Brodsky, Assistant Professor in MCB, Ship Street
Karen Marie Haberstroh - Assistant Professor of Engineering
Sorin Istrail - Professor of Computer Science
Tayha Palmore - Associate Professor of Engineering
David Targan - Dean for Science Programs
Marjorie Thompson - Associate Dean of Biological Sciences
Jim Valles - Professor of Physics
Herman Vandenburgh - Professor of Pathobiology
Potential support (TBC)
Nicola Neretti, Assistant Professor of Physics
Art Soloman, Assistant Professor, MCB
(1)Tom Knight 2005, iGEM: International Genetically Engineered Machine competitionshttp://icampus.mit.edu/projects/iGem.shtml
(2)Chris Voigt 2005, Synthetic biology: Engineering Escherichia coli to see light, Nature 438, 441-442 (24 November 2005)