International Genetically Engineered Machine

International Genetically Engineered Machine

International Genetically Engineered Machine
Date(s) October 30 – November 3, 2014
Frequency Annually
Location(s) Boston, Massachusetts, USA
With additional events worldwide
Inaugurated 2003
Most recent 2014
iGEM 2006 from above.

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is a worldwide synthetic biology competition that was initially aimed at undergraduate university students, but has since expanded to include divisions for high school students, entrepreneurs, and community laboratories, as well as overgraduates.


  • Competition details 1
  • Biological systems / BioBricks 2
    • Broader goals 2.1
  • Growth and recent years 3
  • Competition results 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Competition details

Student teams are given a kit of biological parts at the beginning of the summer from the Registry of Standard Biological Parts consisting of various genetic components such promoters, terminators, reporter elements, and plasmid backbones. Working at their own schools over the summer, they use these parts and new parts of their own design to build biological systems and operate them in living cells. Randy Rettberg, an engineer who has worked for technology companies including Apple, Sun and BBN,[1] is the director of the iGEM competition.

Biological systems / BioBricks

One of the aims of the competition is to attempt to build simple biological systems from standard, interchangeable parts and operate them in living cells.

The iGEM competition facilitates this by providing a library of standardized parts (called BioBrick standard biological parts) to students, and asking them to design and build genetic machines with them. Student teams can also submit their own BioBricks. Successful projects produce cells that exhibit new and unusual properties by engineering sets of multiple genes together with mechanisms to regulate their expression.

Information about BioBrick standard biological parts, and a toolkit to make and manipulate them, is provided by the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, or simply, the Registry. This is a core resource for the iGEM program, and one that has been evolving rapidly to meet the needs of the program.

Broader goals

Beyond just building biological systems, broader goals of iGEM include:

  • To enable the systematic engineering of biology.
  • To promote the open and transparent development of tools for engineering biology.
  • And to help construct a society that can productively and safely[2] apply biological technology.

iGEM's dual aspects of self-organization and imaginative manipulation of genetic material have demonstrated a new way to arouse student interest in modern biology and to develop their independent learning skills.

Growth and recent years

iGEM developed out of student projects conducted during MIT's Independent Activities Periods in 2003 and 2004.[3][4] Later in 2004, a competition with five teams from various schools was held. In 2005, teams from outside the United States took part for the first time.[5] Since then iGEM has continued to grow, with 130 teams entering in 2010.[6]

Because of this increasing size, in 2011 the competition was split into three regions: Europe, the Americas, and Asia (though teams from Africa and Australia also entered via "Europe" and "Asia" respectively).[7] Regional jamborees will occur during October; and some subset of teams attending those events will be selected to advance to the World Championship at MIT in November.[8]

In January 2012 the iGEM Foundation was spun out of MIT as an independent non-profit organization located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. The iGEM Foundation supports scientific research and education through operating the iGEM competition. The same year, iGEM expanded into having not only the Collegiate division, but also competitions for entrepreneurs and high school students.

For their tenth anniversary iGEM added new tracks to the existing ones: Art & Deign, Community Labs, Entrepreneurship, Measurement, Microfluidics, Policy & Practice, and Software. Although Entrepreneurship and Software were tracks in previous years, in 2014 they were made more distinct in terms of their judging requirements.[9] Furthermore, in 2014 iGEM did not have regional jamborees, but instead hosted a giant jamboree so every team could participate in one conference in Cambridge unlike in previous years where only the regional finalists were brought to Cambridge.[10]

Competition results

Top Universities by Year
1st Undergrad. 2nd Undergrad. 3rd Undergrad. 1st Overgrad. 2nd Overgrad. 3rd Overgrad. Complete Results
2014 Heidelberg Imperial NCTU Formosa UC Davis Wageningen TU Darmstadt iGEM 2014
2013 Heidelberg TU Munich Imperial Paris Bettencourt Bielefeld Sun Yat-sen iGEM 2013[note 1]
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th Complete Results
2012 Groningen Ljubljana Paris Bettencourt[note 2] LMU Munich iGEM 2012
2011 Washington Imperial ZJU China MIT iGEM 2011 [note 3]
2010 Ljubljana Peking BCCS Bristol Cambridge Imperial TU Delft iGEM 2010
2009 Cambridge Heidelberg Valencia Freiburg Bioware Groningen Imperial iGEM 2009
2008 Ljubljana Freiburg Caltech Harvard NYMU Taipei UC Berkeley iGEM 2008
2007 Peking Paris Ljubljana UC Berkeley UCSF USTC iGEM 2007 [note 4]
2006 Ljubljana Imperial Princeton iGEM 2006
2005 Years prior to 2006 had no specific winners iGEM 2005
2004 IAP 2004, SBC 2004
2003 IAP 2003
Top High Schools by Year
Grand Prize 1st Runner-Up 2nd Runner-Up Complete Results
2014 CSIA-SouthKorea TP CC-SanDiego[note 5] TAS Taipei iGEM HS 2014
2013 Lethbridge Canada AUC Turkey CIDEB-UANL Mexico iGEM HS 2013
2012 Heidelberg LSL NC School of Sci Math CIDEB-UANL Mexico iGEM HS 2012
2011 Years prior to 2012 had no separate high school division


  1. ^ In 2013 iGEM was divided into an undergraduate and an overgraduate section. The criterium for division was the participance of team members older than 23 years.
  2. ^ Students were from different universities of Paris (Paris Descartes University, Paris Diderot University, Pierre and Marie Curie University).
  3. ^ As of June 2012, the 2011 results page does not include results from the Championship Jamboree; but details can be found at the Jamboree page.
  4. ^ 2007 had six finalists but none were selected as specific runners-up.
  5. ^ Combination of two teams from Torrey Pines High School and Canyon Crest Academy


  1. ^ "The Bleeding Edge". IEEE. Retrieved 2010-03-17. 
  2. ^ Guan, et al. "Biosafety Considerations of Synthetic Biology in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition". 
  3. ^ "Learn about iGEM". Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  4. ^ Trafton, Anne. "Rewiring Cells". Technology Review. 
  5. ^ "iGEM 2005". Retrieved 2013-05-06. 
  6. ^ "Previous iGEM Competitions". iGEM. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  7. ^ "Team List 2011". iGEM. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Jamborees". iGEM. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Tracks 2014". iGEM. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Giant Jamboree". iGEM. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 

Further reading

  • Mooallem, Jon (2010-02-14). "Do-It-Yourself Genetic Engineering". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  • "A Life of Its Own: Where will synthetic biology lead us?". New Yorker. 2009-09-28. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  • "iGEM Team Funding". Wellcome Trust. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  • "Biosafety Considerations of Synthetic Biology in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition". Bioscience. 2013-01-13. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 

External links

  • iGEM
    • iGEM 2014
  • Registry of Standard Biological Parts
  • The BioBricks Foundation