At its simplest, iGEM is a competition where teams use biological parts or 'Biobricks' to build novel biological systems to do certain jobs. The Calgary team for instance worked on a project to detect E.coli in live animals before there is a change for it to enter our food processing system. UIUC Illinois saw a way to develop a probiotic to enhance cardiovascular health. Berkeley knew that producing the dye for denim had a high environmental and economic costs and set their site on a more sustainable approach to making the dye using biosynthesis tool.
Needless to this isn't just a glorified science fair - these are serious projects that dig deep into the science of synthetic biology, require a lot of student time, often raise ethical and societal issues, and are expensive to get done.
I went to Toronto to take in the North American Jamboree and I'm pleased to say that the investment and support from organizations like Genome Alberta and Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures has paid off. Alberta's Collegiate teams from the University of Lethbridge, University of Calgary, and the University of Alberta are all going to the World iGEM Championship in Boston the first weekend of November. ( to see more on iGEM and what it took for Alberta to get to this point see my story in Biotechnology Focus magazine)
Alberta's teams also did well in several of the special categories:
- Lethbridge - Regional winner (overgrad)
- Calgary - Regional runner-up (undergrad)
- Alberta - Best Presentation (undergrad)
- Calgary - Best Wiki (undergrad)
- Lethbridge- Best Wiki (overgrad)