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Hands on learning in DIY biology competition

iGEM competition allows students to use knowledge learnt in school in real life, all disciplines welcome to participate

Whether you’re an English major, chemistry fanatic, rhetorician, or computer wizard, this competition is for you. The competition is all about combining interdisciplinary backgrounds and working with others in a hands on learning environment, say organisers.

The idea behind the iGEM (the International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition is twofold: assemble ‘biobricks’ to give an organism a new function in a open source while transforming school based knowledge into DIY biology.

»You learn how to work with others from different backgrounds and mix qualifications. You can be creative and curious, creating your own ideas and carrying them out with no limits other than what you set yourself. There’s a lot of trial and error involved,« says Charlotte Navntoft, iGEM participant from last years University of Copenhagen team.

Spoiled meat detector

The competition first began in 2004 at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts. What started as five teams quickly grew to nearly 250 teams to date.

Every year, more and more ‘biobricks’ are added to the common library so next years teams can access them. New teams can modify ideas from previous teams or choose to create something entirely new. Take, for instance, last years winning team who created a spoiled meat detector. By putting a small bag on the meat and looking for a change in color, you can tell if the meat will soon spoil.

In addition to creating new ‘biobricks’, teams are responsible for finding the monies to fund the project and promoting their idea through public awareness. Teams have to create a webpage, but also have other options for promoting themselves through podcasts, teaching children, and public lectures.

Exploring the possibilities

Navntoft is not participating again this year but instead will act as a mentor for the new group being formed this year. Charlotte says she chose to participate last year because of the endless possibilities in the competition, but also because it gave her the opportunity to work in a team and collaborate with others from different backgrounds.

»You could spent time at the beach this summer, or you could spend time in the lab meeting new people and exploring the possibilities. Nobody tells you what you can and cannot do, it is your own curiousity and passion for science that drives you,« says Navntoft.

Find out more about iGEM here here.
More info about the 2013 Copenhagen team here.
See the 2012 Copenhagen teams page here.

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