iGem stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine. The iGem competition started in 2003 at MIT, Boston. The iGem competition gives students the opportunity to push the boundaries of synthetic biology by tackling everyday problems that affect the world. Each year, nearly 6,000 people from 45 different countries around the world dedicate their summer to iGem and then come together in the autumn to present their work at the annual Jamboree.
Leiden University has been participating in the competition since 2016. Bachelor or master students of all interdisciplinary studies of the University can apply for the iGem Leiden team. Team iGem Leiden 2021 consists of 14 students this year.
iGem Leiden – the pitch
Recent years have shown that synthetic biology could be a potential game changer in tackling environmental and medical problems. However, the major challenge of biocontainment (i.e. preventing release into the environment) of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) limits the impact of synthetic biology, as GMOs still cannot usually be used outside the laboratory. More specifically, horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of artificial genes or resistance markers poses a problem, making the application of GMOs in large-scale solutions almost impossible.
Our goal is to establish a reliable biosafety and biocontainment system that prevents HGT in GMOs.
The iGem Leiden team proposes an easily applicable system that prevents HGT, by using a mutually dependent double plasmid system. In our system, all artificial genetic elements are cloned into two plasmids, with both plasmids carrying a complementary toxin/antitoxin (TA) system (see figure). Each plasmid encodes the antitoxin for the toxin encoded on the other plasmid, and vice versa. This ensures that each plasmid cannot exist in a cell without the other, otherwise the toxin will kill the bacterium. Because HGT is a stochastic process, the probability of both plasmids being transferred to a wild-type bacterium is smaller than the probability of HGT occurring with only one plasmid. Therefore, our system should be much safer with respect to HGT.
As our goal is to create a reliable and easy-to-use system, we value the opinions and feedback of experts. Knowledge and feedback from stakeholders and experts is needed to develop our project to a higher level, in such a way that scientists are happy to work with our system. Besides science, iGem attaches great value to public engagement. Therefore, we like to engage with the public in order to educate other people about GMOs. That is why we organise events in museums and primary schools, and present our project to institutes and companies.Iris Noordermeer
At the moment, there are still several hurdles to overcome during our project. Because this project is a self-initiative, finances have to be provided for laboratory work, events and educational programmes. In order to make all this possible, iGem Leiden is looking for companies and/or institutions that would like to sponsor their project.
Sponsors get access to the community of young scientific professionals. For example: in November, the iGem competition concludes at a major conference called the Giant Jamboree, attended by thousands of professional scientists. Sponsors are presented to a large audience at this and several other conferences. The iGem team Leiden can also give a presentation for sponsors in front of the company or at a conference organised by the company.
iGem Leiden will start a crowdfunding campaign in September. In order to attract more attention and reach a wider audience for this crowdfunding, ambassadors with a broad network are sought who want to share the crowdfunding in their network.
Specifically, the following items can be sponsored (items without payment in kind):
- Location for a meeting for 30 persons in the second half of September
- Plastic material (e.g. Eppendorf tubes, pipet points, culture plates, etc.) € 1.800
- DNA extraction kits € 1.000
- Plasmids costs € 550
- PCR € 800
- Gel electrophoresis € 250
- Digestion, Ligation, Transformation € 700
- The culture package (e.g. bacterial strains, LB medium, antibiotics, IPTG) € 500
- Team registration € 4.676,10
- Team registration fee for Giant Jamboree € 2.132,10
- 8 hours sounding board with scientists at Biotech companies
- Publication space in trade journals
- Location for award ceremony of iGEM competition on 14 November for 60 people. A space where the Dutch iGEM teams can come together to see each other’s presentations.
- In addition, a smaller separate room (also on 14 November) for 12 people, to quietly answer the jury members’ online questions about their project
The iGem teamLeiden is very grateful for any kind of help during their project. For more information about our project or for questions, please contact us at email@example.com.
iGem Leiden consists of (see photo): Upper row vlnr: Giovi Duivenvoorden, Bachelor student Life Science & Technology, Pieter Schol, Master student Biomedical Sciences, Quint van Loosen, Master student Molecular Genetics & Biotechnology, Ehsan Razaghi Siahroudi, Bachelor student Biomedical Sciences, Lisa Kleinjan, Bachelor student Life science & Technology, Iris Noordermeer, Master student Molecular Genetics & Biotechnology, Bas van Woudenberg, Master student Molecular Genetics & Biotechnology, Sebastiaan Ketelaar, Master student Molecular Genetics & Biotechnology, Igor van Meulen, Bachelor student Life science & Technology, Jetse van Os, Bachelor student Molecular Science & Technology. Bottom row from left to right: Siheng Li, master student Molecular Genetics & Biotechnology, Hoda Ekhlasi, master student Molecular Genetics & Biotechnology, Bo Berghuis, master student Molecular Genetics & Biotechnology, Chanel Naar, master student Biomedical Sciences.