Synthetic Biology

based on standard parts

The iGEM competition is an annual, world wide, synthetic biology event aimed at undergraduate university students, as well as high school and graduate students. Multidisciplinary teams work all summer long to build genetically engineered systems using standard biological parts called BioBricks. iGEM teams work inside and outside the lab, creating sophisticated projects that strive to create a positive contribution to their communities and the world.

Team Composition

Many disciplines come together in iGEM. The competition might seem exclusive to biology or engineering disciplines, but teams will often have students from very diverse fields to complement the project.

A few examples are: computer science, art and design, physics, marketing, law, mathematics and social sciences.

Teams are also required to have two academic instructors in order to participate. This requirement helps ensure that teams have enough mentorship support throughout the competition. They are also encouraged to look for more advisors and mentors that can help the team succeed with their project. This often includes graduate students and other professors from their university who have experience with one (or more) aspect of their project.

Skills developed/practiced in iGEM

  • Project planning and administration
  • Resource and team management
  • Fundraising
  • Team work
  • Problem based knowledge
  • International networking
  • Entrepreneurial thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Responsible science and engineering
  • Safe lab work and project design
  • Presentation skills
  • Scientific communication


Teams will have to meet various deadlines and requirements throughout the season. You can see last year's calendar on our 2016 calendar page.

Timelines are different for every project; however, in general teams begin to organize between December and January. They need to get faculty approval, recruit members, fundraise, and brainstorm project ideas. Between the start of February and the end of March, the teams will register (which includes paying the registration fee, providing a resource description, and providing contact information so teams can receive important emails from iGEM HQ and their DNA Distribution Kits) and, once they are approved by iGEM Headquarters, they will receive their DNA Distribution Kit sometime in April.

Once the kits arrive, work in the lab will take place between May - August. During these months, teams will get together in regional meetup events, work outside the lab doing community outreach activities, and will document their efforts in their wikis. At the end of the summer, the Giant Jamboree will bring all of the teams together to share and celebrate their hard work.

iGEM Around the World

iGEM is a truly international event with teams coming from all over the world. The United States, Canada, Chile, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Egypt, Bulgari, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, France, and Australia are only some of the countries that participated in iGEM 2016.

In 2016, we have 300 teams registered from the following regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America.

The map below shows all the approved teams for iGEM 2016. You can also see the complete list of 2016 teams here.

Human Practices

Teams are encouraged to go beyond the bench. iGEM teams incorporate ethics, sustainability, social justice and education to their projects by reaching out to their communities, performing risk assessment and proposing new laws and regulations. Successful projects consider how to contribute to the world surrounding them.


Synthetic biology is a new field that can highly benefit from new software tools. iGEM teams develop new programs that can help design genetic circuits, find the right part for a project and construct algorithms for testing efficiency. These new resources are shared with the iGEM community and are made accessible to everyone.


Safety in iGEM is more than just maintaining standard lab practices and avoiding high risk organisms. iGEM teams follow a high standard of safe and responsible biological engineering. They are responsible for living up to the trust placed in them to design, build, and share biological devices safely. Teams must think carefully about the impact of their project, who will use it, who will benefit from it, and how will they safely dispose of it.

While teams are responsible of complying to the safety rules of their labs and the biosafety standards of their countries, the iGEM safety program helped them by providing guidelines and offering resources and advice.

iGEM Tracks

The purpose of the iGEM tracks is to help students focus their research projects. The subjects areas encompassed by the tracks aim to solve crucial global challenges; for examples, students have worked on projects related to environmental bioremediation, new medical delivery systems, and alternative energy sources using synthetic biology.

You can click on the track icons to find out more about each individual track or visit the 2016 Tracks page.

Community Labs

Community labs are a type of team for 2016 in the collegiate division of iGEM. This team type is open to any organization, academic or otherwise, that would like to participate in iGEM. These can include DIY Bio labs, hackerspaces, public institutions, and basically any organization interested in the design and engineering of biological machines.

Medals, Awards, and Prizes

At the Giant Jamboree, iGEM teams competed for various awards. These awards range from Medals to Track Awards to Special Prizes. During the Awards Ceremony, the Undergraduate, Overgraduate, and High School teams presented their projects again to the entire iGEM community to compete for the Grand Prize. All of the medals, awards, and prizes were announced during the Awards Ceremony on Monday, which is the culmination of the Giant Jamboree.

The iGEM Registry

iGEM runs the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, which houses a growing collection of genetic parts that can be mixed and matched to build synthetic biology devices and systems. During the competition, iGEM teams have access to parts, samples, data, and tools to work on their synthetic biology projects. One of the expectations for participating iGEM teams is that they will submit any new biological parts they created to the Registry in order to help the Registry grow. Teams are also encouraged through the medal system to characterize their new parts along with existing parts from the Registry and submit that data to the Registry in order to help future teams use those parts.

DNA Distribution Kit

Each team will receive a copy of the DNA Distribution Kit. This kit has a curated selection of the best parts teams have built and resources to help iGEMers test efficiency and quality.

    The iGEM 2016 DNA Distribution contains:
  • DNA Distribution Kit Plates 1 - 6
  • Linearized Plasmid Backbones
  • Competent Cell Test Kit
  • Interlab Measurement Kit
  • 2016 Part Submission Kit
  • iGEM Stickers and Pins!
  • Sponsor material from PLOS and IDT

With this kit, teams designed, built and submitted their own parts. Their new BioBricks were sent and added to the iGEM Registry in the spirit of the "Get & Give" philosophy. Every year, the number of parts contributed by associated groups increases the collection of parts that can be used by groups in future years.

Example Projects

What iGEM teams achieve in less than a year is incredible. The following examples demonstrate the hard work and true potential of teams; from new business opportunities to innovative food quality control.

Imperial 2014

Imperial's project proposed a new method of water purification.
Using bacterial cellulose and a protein that captures specific contaminants, the team developed a tailor made biofilter that will help water recycling.

UC Davis 2014

69% of olive oil in the US is rancid.
UC Davis tackled this issue with a device to measure the quality of oil with fast and accurate new method: a user friendly electrochemical sensor that uses engineered enzymes to test rancidity.

ITESM Guadalajara 2014

Chitosan is a valuable biopolymer used in many industries. The extraction process, however is expensive and highly pollutant. Using local shrimp waste, ITESM-Guadalajara created a new business opportunity.

NCTU Formosa 2014

Insect damage brings significant loss to agriculture. Conventional treatments can cause pollution and drug resistance. NCTU Formosa created a novel capturing device that uses pheromone expression to a attract a specific species.

Giant Jamboree

iGEM 2017 Giant Jamboree

November 9-13, 2017 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA

The Giant Jamboree is an annual event that showcases work from the iGEM season. All participating iGEM teams are invited to present their synthetic biology projects and compete for prizes. In 2016, iGEM hosted over 300 international, multidisciplinary teams eager to share their work. This five-day event is a celebration of synthetic biology accomplishments, featuring presentations, poster sessions, workshops and social events. Experience the Jamboree by visiting our photo library and highlight video.

iGEM Foundation

Dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration.