Our Vision: Focus on Information
iGEMers are pioneers in synthetic biology
iGEM started out as an experiment to create the synthetic biology industry. Our founders asked the question: Can students work together to build working biological devices within a summer? Now, over a decade later we know the answer is, “Yes!”. The iGEM Competition is intentionally set up as a sandbox for innovation. Teams are not prescribed themes or given specific problems to solve. Instead they are given the space to use synthetic biology to tackle problems however they see fit. As a result, iGEM has become a natural test-bed for new ideas and approaches in synthetic biology.
Throughout our history, we have been taking steps towards an imagined future: synthetic biology without DNA manipulation. In this future, engineers wouldn’t be concerned with samples and assembly because they could synthesize their designs entirely. Instead, the focus would be on the information associated with the system. Eventually, exchanging information about parts would replace the need to exchange physical samples between labs. It would be the data and documentation of your parts that would be important. This year we are taking another step towards making this future a reality.
In the first phase, our partners brought free DNA synthesis directly to teams. Free synthesis allowed teams to focus more on design and characterization, rather than assembly of DNA fragments. Now we are entering the second phase. Through increased synthesis and more access to helpful tools and technologies, iGEMers will have more time to focus on the information that they generate in their projects.
For the past five years, IDT has provided free DNA synthesis to all iGEM teams. With this deal, teams lived in the future. Instead of obtaining DNA fragments from pre-existing samples by PCR or restriction digests, teams could synthesize samples of basic parts. Instead of worrying about assembly, they could synthesize entire devices. Their time was freed up so that they could spend more time on designing, measuring, and documenting their parts. This was a big step towards bringing our vision to life.
This year, synthesis is taking two big roles in the competition:
- More DNA synthesis for teams: In addition to IDT’s generous offer, Twist Bioscience is also offering synthesis to iGEM teams for use in their projects. Combined, that's up to 30KB of custom DNA per iGEM team.
- DNA synthesis for The Registry: At the end of the season, Twist will synthesize samples of part submissions so that they are available to our community through future DNA Distributions. Teams no longer have to submit physical samples in order to share their parts and grow the Registry collection!
With technology like DNA synthesis at their fingertips, teams have been employing newer assembly methods like Gibson and Type IIS. Beginning in 2019, iGEM is officially fully supporting parts that are Type IIS compatible. With Type IIS assembly methods, teams can build entire devices in a single reaction, which will allow them to design, build, and test more devices in a shorter amount of time.
In our vision of the future, eventually engineers won’t worry about DNA assembly at all if they can obtain fully constructed DNA devices from a manufacturer. However, we need to adopt a technology that will help bridge the gap between today’s reality where synthesized parts are still assembled together, and the future we envision where complete genetic devices arrive in the mail.
Focus on Information
The key to success in this vision is information sharing. In a synthesis-rich future, information about a part is far more valuable than the sample that you work with. With information alone, a synthetic biologist should be able to design a biological device, order it, and proceed with testing it as soon as it arrives in the mail.
We are working hard on additional key components in this future focused on information. For example, what about parts and part abstraction in world without assembly? What about measurement? And automation? As we proceed along this path, we will continue to add to this vision.
If you believe bringing synthesis and a focus on information through iGEM is important for the future of the synthetic biology industry, we invite you to join us in bringing our vision to life. Contact us with all ideas, suggestions, comments, or proposals for partnership!
Stay tuned for more information on:
- Registry tools
- Additional partner offers
- and more...