Celebrating two anniversaries: 20 years of iGEM and 10 years of IDT’s Platinum Partnership
2023 is a year of celebration. This year marks the 20th anniversary of iGEM, a non-profit organization dedicated to education of the next generation of researchers and entrepreneurs in the field of synthetic biology. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of IDT being a platinum sponsor of one of the most prestigious and sought-after synthetic biology (synbio) competitions in the world. To commemorate these two anniversaries, let’s take a look back on how iGEM began and how IDT is supporting the future leaders of synthetic biology.
History of iGEM
Twenty years ago, Tom Knight, Randy Rettberg, Drew Endy, and Gerald Sussman developed an Independent Activities Period course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which encouraged students to apply the engineering principals to biological models. In 2004, five teams of undergraduates presented their synthetic biology projects in a small competition as part of the course. That Independent Activities Period course eventually became the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation, which continued to grow so rapidly that by 2012, iGEM needed to move its headquarters outside of MIT.
Between 2005 and 2012, iGEM had various important milestones and improvements to the competition, including the introduction of online team wikis (online portal with detailed documentation of their project) in 2006 as well as the formalization of safety and security regulations in 2008. By 2013, iGEM became an official nonprofit organization and in 2014 the first Giant Jamboree (now the Grand Jamboree) was hosted in Boston. This was the first time when all iGEM participants—that year hailing from 34 countries—gathered to present their research projects and compete for the Grand Prize.
In 2019, iGEM officially announced its iGEM European office. When COVID-19 changed the world, iGEM was quick to adapt and moved its annual Jamboree to a virtual format for 2020 and 2021. In 2022, the iGEM Grand Jamboree was hosted for the first time in Paris, where it drew around 3,500 participants from 45 countries.
Now, the 2023 iGEM Grand Jamboree will mark 20 years since the first groups of students were presenting their research projects as part of an MIT course.For the second consecutive year, it will take place in Paris, France and it is already shaping up to be larger and more innovative than ever before.
The iGEM Grand Jamboree
The Grand Jamboree is a multi-day celebration where passionate synthetic biology students (fondly referred to as iGEMers) from all over the world have the chance to present their projects to a panel of judges. The teams receive scores for their wiki, “Parts” (materials developed during their projects), the video presentation developed to promote their project, and the actual presentation of their project to the judges. Once all scores have been tallied, the top teams are featured during the last day’s presentation and the overall winners are announced.
The first iGEMers were all undergraduate students but in 2015 the Jamboree started welcoming both high school and graduate level iGEMers to the competition. Today’s Jamboree has three main divisions: high school, undergraduate, and “overgraduate”—students who have already obtained their bachelor's degree.
It is important to note that the Grand Jamboree is not merely a massive science fair with a student competition as one of its components. The iGEM Grand Jamboree is an international gathering of forward-thinking synthetic biologists who are learning how to develop their ideas into impactful projects, building their networks, and gaining experiences that will shape how they approach future real-life problems. Randy Rettberg, the president of iGEM, has often been quoted referring to iGEMers by saying, “They have not learned what they can't do yet”.
What to expect from the 2023 iGEM Grand Jamboree
The 2023 Grand Jamboree has a lot in store for the estimated 5,000 participants. iGEM is expecting around 400 teams from 66 countries to participate in this year’s competition. New features of the 20th anniversary Jamboree include a Bionnovations Fair, which aims to bring industry partners, future synthetic biology leaders (iGEMers), and startups together for a unique networking and learning opportunity.
The 2023 Grand Jamboree will also feature for the first time National Pavilions, which are dedicated spaces designed to allow countries and regions to display their latest accomplishments in synthetic biology as well as inspire iGEMers to get involved in the global dialogue around synthetic biology governance and practices.
The 2022 Grand Jamboree debuted “Villages,” which organizes iGEM teams into 15 themed spaces depending on the iGEM project. These Villages tackle relevant topics including, among others, climate change, the environment, agriculture, and industrial scale-up. This year, the iGEM Villages will return, allowing iGEMers to showcase all of their hard work, network with other teams, and gain feedback from other Grand Jamboree attendees.
Other key features to look for at the 20th anniversary Jamboree are the industry partner pavilions, exhibitor booths, and kiosks. These locations will provide all the participants with a unique opportunity to interact and engage with a large community of synbio researchers, educators, and industrial partners, including IDT.
How does IDT support iGEM?
IDT is dedicated to contributing to the development of the next generation of synthetic biologists and entrepreneurs as well as to pushing the boundaries of biological sciences. Now in this 10th year as a Platinum Sponsor of iGEM, IDT is continuing a well-established tradition of providing up to 20 kb of gene fragments or equivalent value of other products to teams from around the world.
IDT is proud to be able to provide this support to iGEM participants and has received feedback from past teams that this support had played an important role in helping these next generation researchers access the competition. One of the iGEMers said that “IDT free gene fragments were a GAMECHANGER. We got all of our primers & oligos through them.” Another team also acknowledged that these products directly helped them achieve their scientific goals by saying that “Without IDT’s gene blocks and fragments, we could not have done all the things we wanted to do.”
For 2023 participants: iGEMers - To take advantage of IDT's offer, don’t forget to register with IDT before September 1, 2023, and place your orders by October 1, 2023.
Tips for iGEM participants
Participation in such an important scientific competition like iGEM may seem daunting. Teams put a lot of effort and resources into their projects, they have to travel—sometimes across the world—to be able to present their results in person in the city of light. All in all, the stakes are high!
IDT has a few resources that can help iGEMers prepare for this event and present their results with more confidence. IDT has been accelerating discoveries in the life science industry for 35 years now, and IDT scientists have extensive experience innovating in the field of synthetic biology. In fact, some IDT researchers have had the opportunity to participate in the iGEM Jamboree as judges so they know first-hand what it takes to present a successful research project. iGEMers can check out the article Tips for first-time iGEM participants to find out what a former IDT-iGEM judge recommends for newcomers to the iGEM community. Additionally, iGEMers can learn about seven strategies that may contribute to an iGEM team’s success.
IDT is looking forward to the 2023 Grand Jamboree and to meeting this year’s community of iGEMers. À bientot (see you soon) in Paris!