MIT iGEM

iGEM applications are closed for the 2021 season!

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
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. iGEM is the most authentic research experience you can get without going to graduate school.

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 send the following information in a PDF to igem-2021-apps at mit dot edu by February 10th, 2021. 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. A list of any other commitments you've made for this spring and summer.
  3. What makes you committed to completing a project? How do you view collaboration? Propose a fun team activity you’d like to do while virtual or in person. (~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. 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. Aim to talk about the scientific research value, why you think it’s cool and exciting, but also the potential value to society. (~300 words)
  6. What are some other (non-science) skills you can contribute to the team? Do you do graphic design? Are you an organizational whiz? An epic fundraiser? An extraordinary webmaster? (~100 words)
  7. 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)
  8. **NEW** Would you like to use your ELO ($1900) funding for the spring semester if you have not used it?
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. The majority of the work on the project will occur over the summer, beginning with a bootcamp to develop relevant experimental and technical skills.
  • February 10th, 2021 -- applications for iGEM team are DUE to igem-2021-apps at mit dot edu
  • March - May 2021 -- Spring semester. Meet 1-2x/wk, ~2-3 hrs/total.
  • June 2021 - August 2021 -- Summer iGEM research. When most of the awesome work gets done and experiments.
  • November 2021 -- iGEM International Jamboree. Virtual or in Paris. Don't miss it. Trust us.
 

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 (at least one on the weekends)
    • Skills include gene circuit design, DNA assembly, mammalian tissue culture, instrumentation
  • 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.
Note: if you are interested but have a conflict with one of these, contact us and we'll work something out. 

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

To apply, please send the following information in a PDF to igem-2021-apps at mit dot edu with responses to the questions below by February 5th, 2021.
  1. What are general research topics of interest to you? Feel free to list them or elaborate. (<50 words)
  2. What amount of time do you think you can commit to advising the team? Feel free to list. 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. 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 2021 to support the 2021 student team. Mentors gain experience in teaching a motivated student team and guiding them through the ideation and execution research process. Mentors will:
  • select students for the iGEM team in February
  • advise the student team during ideation phase in the spring, with students learning about the tools provided by synthetic biology and building a project proposal (~1-2 hours/week max during the spring semester)
  • 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 during a week-long bootcamp in the summer (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 (3-4 hours/week during the summer)
  • motivate and encourage students as mentors and share your own research challenges and experiences
Mentors may also potentially attend the 2021 iGEM Giant Jamboree virtually or in-person in Paris and see other projects teams come up with. Any more questions? Please email igem-2021-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 IAP, spring and fall semesters; but when you're here over the summer (and we're paying you!) we want you focused on iGEM. You are welcome to email these companies’ representatives though and see if they would be willing to be interviewed for human practices and outreach!
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.
Yes! Unfortunately, we can't pay you a stipend over the summer; but 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. With enough sponsorship there’s potential to find ways to fund you as well.
Shoot us an email at igem-2021-team 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, check out our sponsorship booklet here, and 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!