Synthetic Biology

based on standard parts

Safety & Security at iGEM

In February 2017 IGEM convened a retreat to review our safety and security activities. We looked at both emerging issues that could challenge safety and security in synthetic biology and what iGEM might need to do to address them.


This was the first time that iGEM had convened a group of experts to think about these issues. We brought together experts from around the world, with different backgrounds, including: current and past regulators, industry experts as well as science policy specialists; biosecurity experts; health and environment regulators; institutional biosafety officers from leading synthetic biology institutions; and representatives of regional biosafety associations, including from North America, South America, Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. Some were long-time iGEM judges. Others were new to the competition and in some cases synthetic biology risk assessment.

Efforts at the meeting were expert-led, drawing upon the collective knowledge present to help identify issues iGEM will need to deal with in the shorter-term and those we will need to consider in the years to come.


The first day focused on emerging issues, covering environmental biosafety, laboratory biosafety, biosecurity, as well as cross-cutting themes. We also used a visioning exercise to capture a clearer picture of what success and failure might mean for safety and security in synthetic biology.

The second day focused more specifically on what steps we need to take now to strengthen our safety and security practices. We took a careful look at our existing tools, materials and approaches. We also fleshed out plans to revise the safety forms, expand the Safety Committee, and develop additional safety and security tools to help teams on these issues.

We also explored how to get better at telling others about our great work on safety and security – looking both at the materials we could use and where we might use them.


This meeting was the first in a series of planned events on safety and security. Thanks to a grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, we will be working on these issues more actively over the coming months. We might even be hosting an event on this topic in your region! Our progress will be reflected in the Safety Hub on the wiki - check it from time to time to see what we have been up to.

iGEM Foundation

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