International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) is the premiere undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition with the aim to promote education, advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of open community and collaboration. The goal of each competing team project is to prepare standard biological parts of DNA and assemble them in a new inventive way into working biological system. Each team’s genetic parts are collected in the Registry of standard biological parts making them available to iGEM teams and academic labs.
iGEM began in January of 2003 with a month-long course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston (MIT), and in the following year grew to a summer competition with 5 teams. In 2005 the competition became international with 13 teams. Through the years it grew to over 100 competing teams in years 2009-2011 and over 200 competing teams from 2012 on. Click here for more information on iGEM competition and projects.
Achievements of Slovenian teams
In year 2006 Slovenian team participated for the first time in iGEM competition under mentorship of prof. dr. Roman Jerala, working in Department of Biotechnology at the National Institute of Chemistry. After five months of working in a lab, developing an idea how to stop sepsis, group of students successfully presented their project at MIT and won the grand prize. Encouraged with a great success of the first team, new Slovenian student teams attended iGEM competition again in the years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016.
In the year 2008 Slovenia team with project Immunobricks won the grand prize for the second time. They prepared high-tech vaccine against Helicobacter pylori, the main causative agent for development of stomach cancer.
Following year 2009 Slovenian team project NanoBricks[pro] in the mode of protein origami presented modular construction elements of coiled-coils building into designed self-assembling bionanostructures. The project won gold medal.
DNA coding beyond triplets was a 2010 project introducing DNA-guided assembly of biosynthetic pathway that promotes improved catalytic efficiency. Slovenian project was awarded with grand prize for the third time.
In the year 2012 the project Switch IT introduced the concept to produce biological drugs in situ, which is inside the very tissue where the drug is required. The drug are produced by implanted cells that are safely sealed inside microcapsules that prevent cells from spreading throughout the body and protect them from destruction by cells of the host immune system. The team constructed cells that produce two different types of drugs while switching between those production states can be controlled from the outside by a physician, depending on the stage of the disease. Two prototypes of constructed devices specifically for the therapy of hepatitis C or heart attack were formulated. Both could switch the production between a protein with antiviral/anti-inflammatory activity and a protein that improves tissue regeneration. The project won the grand prize for the fourth time for Slovenian team.
The iGEM 2016 team introduced themselves with the Sonicell project at the competition. The project addressed two key challenges of synthetic biology - (i) to achieve a faster response and (ii) to enable rapid non-invasive stimulation of cells within the body. The rate of response of the cells was enhanced by the design of a signaling pathway based on grafted orthogonal proteases, thereby achieving a response to a combination of external signals within 5–15 minutes. The project improved the cell's response to ultrasound, which can penetrate deep into the tissue, allowing rapid non-invasive cell activation. The project won the first place in the Foundational advance field with the project.
The iGEM projects set ideas that were fully developed into research projects leading to discoveries published in renowned journals:
Tetrahedron - designed protein self assembly nanostructure published in Gradišar et al., Nature Chemical Biology, 2013.