International Genetically Engineered Machine

UN Biodiversity Conference

December 2 - 17, 2016

The UN Biodiversity Conference took place in Cancun Mexico from 2 - 17 December, 2016. Over 7,000 participants from 170 countries and over 400 organizations came together to combine efforts to protect biodiversity on a global scale. The Cartagena and the Nagoya protocols were an essential component of this meeting as these two crucial international agreements strive for the safe and fair use of genetic resources.
Representatives from the iGEM Foundation along with a group of 5 iGEM delegates attended the 13th Conference of the Parties in order to be part of the international conversation regarding synthetic biology.

Being Part of a Global Conversation

Key decisions were negotiated during various working groups throughout the week. Official representatives at the convention, followed by other interested parties, were invited to share their formal stances. Due to its novelty and potential impact on biological diversity, synthetic biology was one of the main topics discussed during the meeting. iGEM Foundation’s Vice President, Meagan Lizarazo, delivered a statement about iGEM during the synthetic biology session. An excerpt can be found below:

“ Through the iGEM Competition we empower student teams to solve global and local problems using synthetic biology. Not only do teams learn about using biology as a technology to make a positive contribution in the world, but also about teamwork, openness, fundraising, policy, communication, and responsibility. As you heard yesterday, one of the issues facing biodiversity is “the way we communicate to the general public.” We also believe in and strongly promote responsible research, where teams actively consider ethics, sustainability, diversity, safety, and security in every step of the way. Not only do teams consider these issues, they take what they learn and integrate these lessons back into their projects. “

Learning About International Policy

Prior to the trip, we consulted experts from our community and connected with people who could help us navigate the world of international policy. Since this event was iGEM’s first official participation in an United Nations conference, our delegation approached the event with an eagerness to learn.

Taking part in the working groups and plenary sessions was a great way to experience the grand scope of the event and listen to the 140 countries represented. We also attended side events hosted by organizations with different points of view on synthetic biology to understand their opinion and establish a constructive dialogue with them.

Involving Our Community Through iGEM Delegates

One of our main goals at the conference was to engage key policy-makers in meaningful conversations about synthetic biology and to increase the profile of iGEM in a positive way within the regulatory sphere.

To help achieve this, general callouts were made to current and past teams requesting applications for passionate individuals wishing to help represent iGEM. Candidates were invited to apply from any experience level, including team PIs and students alike, and after an application and interview process, five enthusiastic individuals were carefully selected:

  • Carlos Gustavo da Silva Nunes, Ph.D. (2013/Manaus_Amazonas-Brazil, 2014/UFAM-Brazil, 2015/UFAM-Brazil, 2016/UFAM-UEA_Brazil)
  • Ediner Fuentes (2014/Zamorano)
  • Saylee Jangam (2016/Sheffield)
  • Alan Pacheco (2014/BostonU)
  • Pablo Vargas (2016/TEC-Costa_Rica)

Engaging Policy Makers

Our delegates represent an array of different countries, backgrounds, and experiences. Throughout the week of meetings, they observed and learned about the processes in policy-making, and initiated conversations with various parties in order to understand the general perception of synthetic biology.

This opportunity also enabled the delegates to engage with the governments of their home and neighboring countries. Through their dialogue with individuals about synthetic biology, they were able to make key contacts and encourage a positive perception of iGEM in their local regions.

"The COP participation clearly opened the chance to speak with high level officials from my country, which in normal conditions would have taken “forever”... " - Carlos Gustavo da Silva Nunes, Ph.D.

iGEM is the largest community of synthetic biologists in the world, and consists of some of the most confident, talented, and motivated young minds in the field. Our delegates exemplified these qualities and they were essential to our successful participation at the conference. Their dedication and commitment allowed iGEM to have positive voice in the global conversation. iGEM will continue to be involved in these synthetic biology discussions and we will continue to invite our community to be part of these crucial conferences.