MIT iGEM

Student applications for the iGEM team are due on January 31st

Email igem-management AT mit DOT edu with any questions.

Info Session Recordings: Student + Mentor

Applications for the 2021 MIT iGEM Team open January 22nd, 2021 and are due February 10th, 2021. Please see our Apply section for details.

Our info session for both the STUDENT TEAM and MENTOR TEAM was held on January 26th.

If you are a graduate student, postdoctoral scholar, or MIT iGEM alum interested in mentoring see our Mentor section.
Email igem-2021-apps AT mit DOT edu for any questions.

iGEM LogoSynthetic biology aims to engineer cells using principles of computer science to create genetic “circuits” and machinery that drive cellular functions. It’s been used to engineer bacteria to produce insulin for diabetes, detect contaminants and toxins in the environment, diagnose diseases, engineer organoids for understanding the human body, create biodegradable plastics and materials, and more!

iGEM is an annual world-wide synthetic biology competition. Teams of students use standardized genetic parts to address real-world problems in fields including health and medicine, manufacturing, bioenergy, even art and architecture. Students also take their work beyond the lab, engaging with clinicians, regulators, policy experts and the general public to maximize their project’s potential real-world impact through human practices.Teams’ projects culminate at the International iGEM Jamboree, a synthetic biology competition held each fall. Each team presents a talk and a poster and delivers a wiki about their project.

iGEM Competition 2016 Teams are judged on the quality of their science as well as factors such as communication, outreach, collaboration with other teams, and contribution to the iGEM community and future research. Teams can bring home awards for the best project in their track, as well as special awards for human practices and outreach, diagnostics or therapeutics, innovations in measurement, new biological parts and part collections, and new software tools, among others.
iGEM has a long history with MIT, starting as an MIT IAP course in January 2003 where students engineered cells to blink before becoming a competition in 2004 and growing to hundreds of teams in more than 40 countries globally today. The iGEM team has been a present part of MIT since then including when the MIT Department of Biological Engineering was founded. Up until 2021, the MIT iGEM team has been run and supported by the MIT Synthetic Biology Center and Weiss Lab.

The MIT iGEM team draws students from a wide range of departments and disciplines, including biology, bioengineering, electrical engineering and computer science, math, chemistry, mechanical engineering, architecture, and more. The team is not restricted to individuals from a laboratory science background, and you’ll learn all the skills necessary to get started. The interdisciplinary team begins meeting during the spring semester with the mentor team to develop a project that matches their interests and takes advantage of the resources and expertise of the MIT Huang-Hobbs BioMakerspace, the team’s home since 2021. Over the course of the spring semester, the team refines their project idea, designs new genetic parts, and begins to learn the lab skills they’ll need to accomplish their project.

The centerpiece of iGEM at MIT is the 10-week summer semester. The students work full-time as a UROP conducting experiments and research for their project advised by the mentor team. In addition to their research, they practice communication skills with the BE Communication Lab, engage in outreach with the wider public, and work closely with experts in their chosen problem. In the fall, they finalize their research and work in the form of a wiki with all their research, and go on to present their work at the Jamboree.

Past MIT iGEM projects include:
  • 2009 - Photolocalization of proteins in algae. 
  • 2010 - Programmable, self-constructing biomaterials
  • 2011 - Mammalian cell patterning and tissues by design (Best Health and Medicine Project, Gold Medal, Finalist) 
  • 2012 - Encoding genetic logic in small RNA-based logical gates (Gold Medal) 
  • 2013 - Cell-to-cell communication using virus-like particles called exosomes (Silver Medal) 
  • 2014 - Alzheimer's disease diagnostics and therapy (Gold Medal) 
  • 2015 - Consolidated bioprocessing using two different bacteria to make biofu els (Bronze Medal) 
  • 2016 - Diagnosing endometriosis using newly characterized parts from mammalian synthetic biology (Gold Medal, Nominated for Best Poster, Nominated for Best Part Collection) 
  • 2017 - Using dCas13a to control alternative splicing in mammalian cells (Bronze Medal) 
  • 2018 - CREST: Carries Reduction via Engineered Signal Transduction (Bronze Medal) 
  • 2019 - The Perfect Swarm: Directed Migration of Neutrophil-Like Cells through Engineered Chemokine Secretion (Gold Medal)
  • 2020 - Synthetic Mammalian Circuitry for Graded Treatment of COVID-19 Cytokine Storms (Silver Medal)
  • 2019 - B. syruptilis: A Probiotic Treatment for Maple Syrup Urine Disease (Silver Medal)
Participation in iGEM is different from a traditional undergraduate research experience (UROP) in several important ways. Perhaps the biggest is that students on the team participate in the entire research lifecycle: from project conception, to choosing their approach, planning and executing experiments, analyzing data, and finally communicating their results to a broader audience. This contrasts with a traditional UROP, where a student is paired with a graduate student or postdoc mentor to collaborate on their mentor’s ongoing research.

Second, working on a team is central to the iGEM experience. Teamwork helps the students develop their communication and coordination skills in an authentic collaborative environment, skills that are essential for professional scientists and engineers. As the summer progresses, students frequently begin to specialize, becoming experts in aspects of the project that they find interesting and rewarding, which gives them a greater sense of ownership over their work. Working on a team also improves student learning, both of broader skills for experimental design and analysis as well as the fine-grained operational knowledge required to execute them.

iGEM is the most authentic research experience you can get without going to graduate school.
  • Choose your own project.  Don't have it handed to you by a graduate student who needs another pair of hands.
  • Design your own experiments. Goodbye, cookbook labs.
  • Execute them in a cutting-edge research lab. From laser-driven microscopes to liquid-handling robots, we have all the toys. And we're willing to share!
  • Analyze your own results. The "a-hah!" moment from seeing something nobody else has ever seen? It's the best high ever.
  • Communicate them with the world. The iGEM Jamboree is the biggest synthetic biology conference of the year, and everybody is there.
Are you a biologist looking for a new way to think about bioengineering? Are you an engineer who wants to explore programming cells like you program a computer? Are you a science communicator who's passionate about bringing cutting-edge science to the public? Are you a policy wonk who's interested in the intersection of genetically modified organisms and society? Then you should join the iGEM team! After iGEM, MIT students go on to further explore these topics and more.

After iGEM is a program launched by the iGEM Foundation to connect iGEMers to the larger global community of iGEM and support future iGEM and synthetic biology community efforts. A number of MIT iGEMers have gone on to be part of the After iGEM Ambassadors program and gone to represent iGEM as delegates to the UN Biological Weapons Convention and Biodiversity Conference. iGEMers have also gone on to launch their own companies through the iGEM EPIC (Entrepreneurship Program Innovation Community). Ginkgo Bioworks was founded by members of the MIT iGEM 2004 team and Professor Tom Knight! MIT iGEM teams have gone on to publish their work as well in scientific journals but also in MIT’s Undergraduate Research Journal (MURJ).

See past MURJ issues with iGEM projects or features here: Many alumni of the MIT iGEM teams have continued to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and more. Alumni have also gone on to win prestigious awards, including the Amgen Scholars program, Marshall Scholars program, Schwarzmann Scholars program, Rhodes Scholarship, Scoville Fellowship, Fulbright Scholarship, Hertz Fellowship, and more. Mentors of the iGEM team also go on to become professors at universities globally and at various biotech companies. Here are some of the places that MIT iGEMers have been hired by or matriculated to:
  • Alexion Pharmaceuticals
  • Amazon 
  • BioBuilder Foundation 
  • Boston University
  • Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • edX
  • Genentech
  • Genzyme
  • Ginkgo Bioworks
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Max Planck Institute
  • McKinsey and Company
  • Merck Pharmaceuticals
  • MIT Department of Biological Engineering
  • NASA
  • Stanford
  • Stony Brook University
  • TU Dresden
  • TwitchTV
  • United States Senate
  • University of British-Columbia 
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin
  • Weizmann Institute of Science
  • Yale

Interested in joining? Apply to the Team, Key Dates, and Commitment

To apply, please submit the following information as a PDF here by January 31st, 2022. Please send your application as a single PDF (or two, if your resume is separate). 
  1. Your resume, which should include relevant coursework and research experience. We welcome people of all ranges of lab experience — many iGEMers have been first-years! — but we want to know what you know so we can set up the proper training.
  2. Anticipated spring coursework and a list of any other commitments you've made for this spring and summer.
  3. Where does iGEM fall in your list of priorities for the next 1 year period? Keep in mind that this is a commitment through the first half of the Fall 2022 semester, and that dropping out partway will be detrimental to your teammates (~100 words)
  4. Why are you generally interested in synthetic biology and iGEM and what you hope to gain out of this experience? (~250 words)
  5. Which of the iGEM tracks would you be most interested in doing a project in? You can find a list of the tracks here.
  6. Describe a project you think would be appropriate and exciting for iGEM. You can look at previous iGEM projects (2020, 2019) for inspiration and to get a sense of the typical scope--the project should be achievable within a single summer. Aim to talk about the scientific research value, why you think it’s cool and exciting, but also the potential value to society. We do not require a full set of references for your proposed project, but the more detail the better. (~300 words)
  7. Describe your past research experiences, if any, including what tasks you did or experiments you conducted, and what skills you learned from it. This can take the form of structured experiences, lab classes, or for-fun literature searches, etc. It should not be a straight repeat of your resume, and it's also fine if your experiences are limited--we just want to see that you were engaged in whatever opportunities you had, as well as to get a better sense of what training we should prepare. (~0-300 words)
  8. What are some other (non-science) skills you can contribute to the team? Do you do graphic design? Are you an organizational whiz? A pro interviewer? An extraordinary webmaster? (~100 words)
  9. What do you want to see in a mentor / mentor team? What degree of guidance do you expect? Would you prefer mentors to actively teach skills and procedures? To act as a sounding board for ideas? (~100 words)
This year, the preparation for the competition will begin with an ideation phase in the spring, including regular meetings with mentors to develop project ideas and workshops to teach experimental skills. The majority of the work on the project will occur over the summer, though historically projects have often extended into the fall semester. Significant time in the fall will also be spent on preparing various deliverables for the competition, such as a project website and video.
  • January 31st, 2022 -- applications for iGEM team are DUE to igem-apps at mit dot edu
  • February - May 2022 -- Meet 2 times per week, ~1 hour each to develop a project idea and participate in workshops.
  • June - August 2022 -- iGEM research! When most of the awesome work gets done and experiments.
  • September - November 2022 -- Finish up project and prepare for the iGEM International Jamboree, location TBD.
 

MIT iGEM is a commitment. Typical components are as follows: 

  •  Spring UROP (for credit): Acquire lab skills as you start working on your project!
    • 2-3 hours, twice a week
    • Skills include gene circuit design, DNA assembly, cell or tissue culture, and additional workshops depending on project direction
  • Summer UROP (for pay!): Do most of the work on your project!
    • Full-time (40 hrs/wk) for 10-12 weeks, tracking the MIT summer term.
  • Fall UROP (for pay/credit): Sept -- Oct: Finishing touches, get ready for the Jamboree
    • The Jamboree is usually in November. 
    • The team presents a public website, a poster and a 20-minute talk. 
    • Getting them ready takes time! We'll work with the BE Communications Lab to help get you ready.

Graduate, postdoc, iGEM Alum? Interested in mentoring? Apply to be a mentor.

To apply, please send the following information as a PDF here. While the official application deadline has passed, we would always appreciate more mentors! This is an informal application, we just want to know your expected commitment levels and areas of expertise.
  1. What are general research topics of interest to you? Feel free to list them or elaborate. (<50 words)
  2. What laboratory or computational skills do you feel comfortable teaching and/or want to teach? Central to the iGEM project are computational modeling and laboratory research. Feel free to list!
  3. What amount of time are you able to commit to the team, and what roles are you willing to play (nonbinding)? More information on potential roles can be found below.
  4. How do you view mentorship? What is your experience with team dynamics and advising? (~150 words)
We’re looking for enthusiastic mentors! Expertise from various backgrounds, willingness to teach and be available, advising support, and experience with team dynamics and support is especially valued. Mentors in the past have been grad students, postdocs, or iGEM alum who have experience and expertise in synthetic biology and biological laboratory techniques, but have also been interested in science communication, education, and the social implications of biotechnology and synbio. We hope to form a similarly diverse mentor team in 2022 to support the 2022 student team. Mentors gain experience in teaching a motivated student team and guiding them through the ideation and execution research process. We are happy to have mentors at all levels of commitment throughout the year, but request clear communication if availability changes. Mentors will:
  • assist in selecting students for the iGEM team in early February
  • advise the student team during ideation phase in the spring, and providing feedback on students' project ideas
  • present / talk about topic(s) with the team that excite you and share your knowledge of fields and problems to inspire the team in developing possible projects
  • teach lab/computational skills (already designed by previous iGEM mentors); in the past iGEM alum or upperclassmen on the team have assisted heavily with this
  • meet and provide feedback to the student team during the summer weekly and be available over Slack for technical or laboratory questions. Availability to supervise students in the laboratory in the late afternoon on occasion is particularly helpful
  • motivate and encourage students as mentors and share your own research challenges and experiences
Mentors may also potentially attend the 2022 iGEM Giant Jamboree (location TBD) and see other projects teams come up with. Any more questions? Please email igem-apps at mit dot edu!

Frequently Asked Questions

Unfortunately, past experience has shown that people who try to split their time in the summer between iGEM and other things do a poor job at both of them. We're happy to work around other commitments in the spring semester, but when you're here over the summer we want you focused on iGEM. iGEM often remains busy in the first half of Fall semester as well, so you should plan your schedule accordingly if you participate.
Yes! We'll teach you everything you need to know about designing systems, manipulating DNA, putting your gene circuits in cells and testing them out. If you're not a big fan of lab work, we want you too -- computer models, policy analysis, public outreach, biodesign and art, science communication -- it's not all just pipetting.
Yes! We're not planning on chaining you to the lab bench. You are more than welcome to take weeks off over the Summer as long as you communicate appropriately and work things out with the rest of the team.
Yes! While we will prioritize MIT students, past teams have included exceptional high school students, seniors the summer after they graduate, and students from other programs such as Amgen Scholars and NSF UROPs. You will not be eligible for funding from MIT, but with enough sponsorship there’s potential to find ways to fund you as well.
Shoot us an email at igem-management at mit dot edu and we'll get you sorted.

Interested in supporting and sponsoring the team? Email our Huang-Hobbs BioMakerspace director (jbuck at mit dot edu)!

If you would like to sponsor the team in any way, email our Huang-Hobbs BioMakerspace director, Dr. Justin Buck, jbuck AT mit DOT edu.

Prior sponsors:

  • MIT Dept. of Biological Engineering 
  • MIT Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences 
  • New England BioLabs Inc. 
  • Geneious 
  • CSAIL 
  • GeneWiz 
  • Raytheon BBN Technologies
  • Bio Basic

This page was consolidated from pages previously created by Dr. Brian Teague and Dr. Deepak Mishra! Special thanks to Professor Weiss and previous iGEM teams and mentors for supporting MIT iGEM in all these years!