The Future of Synthetic Biology: A Recap of iGEM 2019

After attending the iGEM Giant Jamboree last year and being completely blown away by the projects presented (check out this article or this one), I didn’t think I’d be as astonished this year. I attributed part of the awe I felt over the caliber and quality of the projects to my wide-eyed naiveté, having never attended the event before. The second time around, the “first-time” novelty long worn off, I didn’t expect to feel that same level of amazement.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After three days of impressive presentations, I once again felt that same astonishment as I prepared to watch the presentations of the 6 finalists. With good reason—the projects presented by the six finalists completely blew my mind!

We were pleased to see that three teams sponsored by Promega were selected as finalists and won overall awards in their divisions.

  • EPFL was the Overgrad Grand Prize Winner and won the Overgrad Awards for Best Environment Project and Best Integrated Human Practices. They developed ViTEST, a rapid, field-deployable diagnostic test that differentiates between two phytoplasma-borne diseases, Flavenscence Dorée (highly contagious, quarantine disease) and Bois Noir (less infectious, not epidemic).
  • Wageningen UR was the Overgrad First Runner Up and won the Overgrad Awards for Best Food and Nutrition Project and Best Poster. Their project Xylencer: Silencing Xylella fastidiosa detects X. fastidiosa (an infectious disease in plants, like olive and citrus groves) in insects and delivers bacteriophages to the infected areas of the plant.
  • TU Kaiserslautern was the Undergrad Second Runner Up and won the Undergrad Awards for Best Environment Project, Best Plant Synthetic Biology, Best Poster and Best Wiki. Their project, Chlamy Yummy, engineered Chlamydomonas reinhardtii with two plastic degradation enzymes (PETase and MHETase) and tested 87 basic and composite parts in order to optimize the system for faster degradation.
Poster featuring EPFL’s project, ViTEST, the 2019 iGEM Overgrad Grand Prize Winner.

Other finalists included Undergrad First Runner Up Calgary, Undergrad Grand Prize Winner NCKU Tainan and High School Grand Prize Winner GreatBay SZ.

  • Calgary’s project, yOIL, offered a comprehensive solution to the Green Seed Problem of canola oil production by addressing each aspect of the production pipeline, from seed to oil production and grading/selling to marketing. Through their extensive interaction with more than twenty stakeholders, they also earned the Undergrad Award for Best Integrated Human Practices.
  • NCKU Tainan, presented Oh My Gut, a synbio solution to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). They engineered E. coli to reduce p-Cresol production (which accumulates due to CKD and leads to further complications) and developed a device to measure p-Cresol levels in blood. This project also won the Undergrad Awards for Best Thereapeutics Project, Best Hardware, Best Measurement, Best Model and Best Presentation.
  • GreatBay SZ’s project, SPIDERMAN: SPIDroin EngineeRing with chroMoprotein And Natural dye involved engineering E. coli to produce spider silk proteins and chromoproteins (in lieu of natural pigments), as well as developing hardware to spin the silk. The also took home a number of other High School Awards, including: Best Hardware, Best New Basic Part, Best Part Collection, Best Presentation, Best Wiki and the iGEMmer’s Prize.

In addition to branch-level sponsorships, we supported 10 teams through our 2019 Promega iGEM Grant Sponsorship (you can learn more about them here). These teams also won several awards: NUS Singapore and Sorbonne U Paris (Gold Medal); NYU Abu Dhabi and Sao Carlos-Brazil (Silver Medal); UAlberta and CU (Bronze Medal). NUS Singapore’s project, E.co LIVE, also earned the Undergrad Awards for Best Foundational Advance Project and Best Part Collection. They were able to engineer E. coli with an on/off switch to control the productivity of the organisms and extend their productive lifespan.

This is only a sampling of the incredible science and entrepreneurship I saw at the 2019 iGEM Giant Jamboree. I encourage you to check out the full list of results and explore more of the amazing projects from the 2019 iGEM Competition.

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Darcia is a Content Lead at Promega. She earned her BS in Secondary Education at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, with minors in Biology and Spanish, and her MS in Biotechnology at the University of Wisconsin Madison. She is passionate about sharing scientific knowledge with all audiences, including her family and friends—whether they have solicited the lesson or not! In her free time, Darcia enjoys reading, playing volleyball, eating delicious food and cheering for the Chicago Cubs.

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