Insights

International Genetically Engineered Machine

iGEM Foundation

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, and the development of an open community and collaboration.

iGEM Insights

A map of the world showing the location of iGEM teams from 2004 to 2018 with multicolored circles

Update: Our 2020 blog post and Opening Weekend Festival video are now up!

Over the course of 15 years, the iGEM community has been advancing the frontiers of synthetic biology thanks to the work of more than 2,500 projects and 40,000 participants across 48 countries. The iGEM Foundation is dedicated to advancing synthetic biology, education and competition and development of an open community of collaboration. iGEM Insights is an initiative sparked by a growing community of iGEMers and researchers around the world who want to grow a community through data and learning.  Through iGEM Insights we aim to learn from iGEM (as a unique testbed of science and engineering in open, international contexts) to improve the competition and the practice of synthetic biology -- and science and engineering more broadly -- beyond the competition. 

Through this initiative, we seek to ask and answer questions like:

  • How do teams build upon each other’s work over the years? 
  • How does team composition influence collaboration and learning?
  • What enables teams to conduct more creative interdisciplinary projects? 
  • What cultivates best practices in safety and ethics in novel research areas? 
  • What leads to team success in the competition? 
  • What makes projects survive after the competition?
  • What impact does iGEM have on individuals, organizations and regions?
A group of people seated around the table all turning from looking from a PowerPoint presentation to smile at the camera.

The first iGEM Insights gathering in Boston, 2017

Each of these questions also involves proposing and testing concepts, definitions and metrics for how to study team-based study and engineering in a global context.

This page is designed to help you learn about and participate in iGEM Insights. Here you will find:

  • Background - motivation and methods for studying science and engineering 
  • Highlights - example projects from current community members and contributors
  • Participation - guidance on how to connect with the steering committee and get involved in the initiative
  • Ethics and Privacy - information on how iGEM’s data, that may be related to past or current iGEM participation, may be used, and how you can learn more and interact with that data.
  • Resources - guidance for conducting analyses in ways that support the goals and values of iGEM

We expect this page to evolve over time. If you have questions or ideas please email us at insights[AT]igem[DOT]org

Background

The Science of Science is a growing and dynamic interdisciplinary research field. The field leverages large data sets to understand the mechanisms underlying the practice of science and engineering -- from what problems people chose to work on, to the trajectories of the field and the careers of the people within it.  Research of this sort has the potential to shed light on the value of science and engineering as well as provide insights that might improve the functioning of the research enterprise. A 2018 review article in Science by Fortuno et al provides an introduction to and examples within this field.

Access to data-rich testbeds has been a bottleneck in conducting such analyses. Working with iGEM is an opportunity to learn from a rich set of data and test predictions about a still-evolving international science and engineering effort.

Complementing large scale analyses in Science of Science and other fields are a diversity of rich and valuable smaller scale studies that are often more qualitative in nature. Together, they bring immense value in gleaning insights about the practice of science and engineering.

Further, in similar groups such as FIRST Robotics, integrating analytics into competition dynamics helps teach participants data science in new and interesting ways and allows for longitudinal insights into organizational trends.

Highlights

This section highlights iGEM teams, staff, alumni and researchers from universities and other organizations from all around the world who are working together to analyze iGEM and its unique place in larger contexts. iGEM Insights is an umbrella initiative as our analyses are much more informative and useful if we work together. That said, many of these are independent groups and do not represent iGEM's views as an organization. A few of the groups participating are highlighted here and we hope to grow this list over time. Please contact insights[AT]igem[DOT]org to have your group and work included! Additionally, you may find this 2020 blog post or this video helpful as an orientation to some of the current work being done.

iGEM Teams

Many iGEM teams have analyzed iGEM as part of their projects for the competition. Here are a few examples. If your team would like to be featured please send a short summary and a summary picture to insights[AT]igem[DOT]org.

Blog & Digest

Gender Diversity in iGEM

Paris-Bettencourt, 2013

Their analysis showing the importance of diversity prompted the iGEM Foundation to better promote and support diversity throughout the competition, including setting gender equality goals at the level of judge recruitment and selection.

Collaboration in iGEM

Waterloo, 2016

They made their dataset publicly available, and other researchers, such as the Santolini group at the CRI, have been building upon this work to analyze how policy changes at iGEM (such as changes in medal requirements) change inter-team behavior.

Projects in iGEM

NTNU, 2015

Developed a tool to analyze iGEM projects via keywords to help teams with similar projects connect and learn from each other. They deposited their software on an iGEM GitHub repository so that others could use and adapt their tools.

Topics of Research in iGEM

Copenhagen, 2018

Examined team abstracts to look at trends in topics pursued by iGEM teams and the tools they used to do so.

Insights Reports

We have started to assemble a growing collection of articles that highlight insights using large scale data from iGEM.  Below are a few examples for inspiration. We plan to grow this list over time.

Enabling Technologies in Synthetic Biology

Linda Kahl and Drew Endy

The study found, among other things, that among synthetic biology researchers in academia or industry, those having experience with the iGEM competition either as a student or non-student participant (e.g., advisors, judges, sponsors, etc.) were significantly more likely to contribute parts to or use parts from the iGEM Registry as compared to researchers without iGEM experience.

SynBioHub Repository

Chris Myers and Anil Wipat

An open-source software project that facilitates the sharing of information about engineered biological systems, described also in an accompanying presentation. This repository has been leveraged to build tools to facilitate data mining to examine, for instance, the popularity of different BioBricks parts.

iGEM InterLab Study

iGEM Measurement Committee

Aimed to identify and correct the sources of systematic variability in synthetic biology measurements. Their vision was to enable measurements that are taken in different labs to be no more variable than measurements taken within the same lab. They published their results, with all of the interlab participants, in a journal article.

Meta-analysis of iGEM

iGEM Headquarters

Annual analyses have helped iGEM on a number of areas, including understanding how to improve the systems for judging, analyzing which information on the wiki teams access (or not), and seeing which BioBricks are most used by teams. Where possible they share these results, for example in the 2018 iGEM report.

Participation

Insights Steering Committee

  • Megan J. Palmer Chair and iGEM Human Practices Representative
  • Marc Santolini Leader of the iGEM TIES (Team IntEractions Study)
  • Traci Haddock-Angelli iGEM Headquarters representative
  • Peter Carr iGEM Executive Judging Committee and Responsible Conduct Committee representative

We are currently seeking additional members to increase expertise and diversity.   The steering committee’s roles and responsibilities include:

  • Providing a point of contact for anyone interested in getting involved
  • Keeping iGEM headquarters up to date on efforts
  • Helping to develop, clarify, and maintain policies for iGEM and others with regards to using and sharing iGEM’s data
  • Regular curation and updating of this page

If you have questions, ideas or want to get involved please reach out to us at: insights[AT]igem[DOT]org

Learning More and Getting Involved

 
  • Work directly with one of the research teams: The research groups involved with iGEM Insights have people at various stages of their career on their teams and are always eager for additional groups members or interns.
  • Join the Insights research community: If you are an independent researcher or lead a research group or that is engaged in learning about and from iGEM, we can familiarize you the Insights effort and get you connect with collaborators.
  • Work with iGEM: If you are an iGEM team member, we can help you plug into this community and learn more about conducting useful and ethical analyses.
 

Getting Started

 

Check out the resources section for data, documentation and collaboration platforms, and more.

Review iGEM’s policies and guidance for respecting and protecting data and analysis related to the competition and its participants.

Research Teams

A growing community of researchers around the world are working with iGEM to conduct and share analyses. Many of them also have participated in iGEM as team members, instructors, judges and committee members. Here are a few examples. If you would like to be featured, please send a short summary to: insights[AT]igem[DOT]org

A headshot of Megan Palmer wearing a black shirt and standing in front of yellow sandstone columns

Megan J. Palmer is the Executive Director of Bio Policy & Leadership Initiatives for the Department of Bioengineering (BioE) at Stanford University. Her current projects leverage iGEM as a testbed for understanding what motivates scientists and engineers to engage with societal concerns, including potential risks. Her group also examines how innovation and risk-taking is incentivized and evaluated, as well as the capacity of oversight groups to manage risks in rapidly advancing fields.

a headshot of Marc Santolini wearing a patterned sweater standing in front of a blue and white background

Marc Santolini is a Research Fellow at CRI Paris and Visiting Professor at the Network Science Institute of Northeastern University (Boston). Marc’s team investigates the impact of social networks on collective knowledge production and research fields evolution. The team’s project iGEM TIES (Team IntEractions Study) aims at understanding what types of collaboration networks underlie team performance and learning in the iGEM context, and more broadly in Science.

A headshot of Anil Wipat standing in front of a pale green background wearing a dark blue shirt that says “bio bricks” on it. Next to that, there’s a juxtaposed headshot of Chris Myers wearing a beige polo standing in front of a matte black background.

Chris Myers at the University of Utah and Anil Wipat at Newcastle University have developed the SynBioHub platform to enable a better quantification and understanding of BioBricks reuse, as well as to improve data accessibility and reliability to promote reuse in the future.

a headshot of Alberto Conejro standing in front of some projected textwearing a white button up shirt

Alberto Conejero is a researcher and professor at Universitat Politècnica de València. He is interested in Analysis, Applied Mathematics, Graph Theory, Biomedical data, Biology, Computer Networks, Text Analysis and Soft Skills. As part of the iGEM Insights collaboration, Alberto and his collaborators have been conducting text analysis of the wiki abstracts to better understand the similarity and evolution of project topics across teams and countries.

a headshot of Jessica Santana standing in front of yellow sandstone columns and wearing a black top

Jessica Santana is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She researches the role of networks in innovation and entrepreneurship using computational social science and other methods. He current work is focused on predicting proto-ethics, or the emergence of “cultures of responsibility,” in innovation communities.

Ethics & Privacy

This section provides information on how data generated by iGEM, which may be related to your past or current iGEM participation (as a student, volunteer, employee, etc.), may be used. Additionally, we provide information on how we promote the responsible use of data.

Upholding iGEM’s Values

iGEM values respect, honesty, cooperation, and excellence. Data is a powerful tool, from genetics to machine learning, and our rapidly expanding ability to collect data is changing the way we do research. However, even “public” data can reveal sensitive details and seemingly innocuous data can become hazardous when shared with third parties and datasets get merged. Further, the type of analysis done matters as well, as models are based on the world as it is, not as it should be. False/hidden assumptions can perpetuate long-standing biases against systematically disadvantaged communities, as can models that are poorly developed/poorly executed. This delicate balance between the helpful ways data can be used and the danger that data poses in otherwise well-meaning hands has led iGEM to develop a set of evolving guidelines to ensure that research supported by iGEM advances not only science in diverse international contexts, but does so in accordance with iGEM’s values.

Privacy

iGEM is committed to respecting and protecting individuals. iGEM has a privacy policy developed in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Should iGEM share data with researchers or other entities, it will always ensure that the data is properly aggregated and/or de-identified in published analyses. Any data processing done outside of iGEM will always be done under data use and confidentiality agreements ensuring proper treatment of sensitive data.

Oversight

In most countries, research involving human subjects research is subject to institutional review by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee. This is to ensure the work is done in compliance with ethical standards around privacy, consent, protection of vulnerable populations, and many other factors that researchers must consider. Researchers partnering with iGEM must demonstrate their understanding and compliance with these policies. Moreover, at iGEM we believe in going above and beyond ethical requirements.

 

Expectations of Researchers

  • Work directly with iGEM to ensure compliance with ethical, privacy and data security practices
  • Consult with iGEM and give them an opportunity to review any methods and conclusions to ensure their sound analysis and respect for ethical standards
  • Outline what the effects of your analyses may realistically be expected to be (e.g. If you are analyzing why one individual or team succeeds or fails in a task, how might this change their future interactions within and beyond iGEM.)
  • When appropriate, publish aggregated data and any code used in analyses in a format to enable others to test and build upon the work

Publishing Your Work

iGEM was founded on the principle of open sharing of work in a give and get model. To continue to forward our goals of openness, any work where iGEM HQ is a contributor will be published on open access platforms. This page, along with all iGEM wiki content is published under the Creative Commons Attribution Copyright license. Further, for independent research, we strongly encourage the use of open access platforms. An acceptable alternative open access solution are preprint archives such as biorxiv. Please get in touch to discuss options that might work best for your work.

Please get in touch by sending an email to insights [AT] igem [DOT] org to discuss options that might work best for your work.

Resources

This section provides tools and data for conducting analyses.

  

All Teams Database

This database gathers all the team's and their projects from 2004 to 2019. Institution, track, abstracts, titles and awards are some of the fields that are available for now. In the future we hope to include more (e.g. team wiki metadata). We hope it is a useful resource that manages to capture the whole of iGEM into a single spreadsheet.

You can download the csv and xls files at on the 2019 iGEM page.

 

Github

Teams have shared their software for analyzing iGEM in Github. There have been yearly repositories since 2016 and other GitHub repositories are controlled by the iGEM software admin github user.

 

SynBioHub

SynBioHub is a design repository for people designing biological constructs. It enables DNA and protein designs to be uploaded, then provides a shareable link to allow others to view them. SynBioHub also facilitates searching for information about existing useful parts and designs by combining data from a variety of sources. They also have resources on the SynBioHub Github page. This repository also includes an instance of the iGEM registry.