CU at the World iGEM Jamboree – a Student’s Perspective

December 5, 2013

Guest post by Josephina Hendrix

The thought of iGEM did not draw me in originally—It was like nothing I had ever done. But then I realized: It was like nothing I had ever done. Before me was a unique opportunity to explore synthetic biology that I could not receive in class or at work

Before summer started a group of prospective iGEMers met once a week to discuss ideas and after much debate we decided on DIY biology. The summer flew by as we worked with our advisors to design experiments and modified common lab protocols to be cheaper and less time consuming. These methods included DNA gel extractions and purification, protein purification and restriction enzyme production.

With a one-day poster, our protocols, and a broken methylase, we flew to the North American Regionals in Toronto. We arrived with low expectations but worked hard to pull off a very successful presentation. At the end of the weekend, we were awarded a gold metal for completing the requirements, “Best New Part, Engineered” for our RTX (a protein tag that precipitates out of solution at the addition of calcium), and an invitation to the global competition in Boston.

Our journey was not over.

We spent the taxi ride to the airport discussing necessary improvements and when the plane landed, it was back to the lab. With the extra time, we fixed the methylase, produced a restriction enzyme, and further characterized RTX and our other methods.

In four short weeks, we boarded another plane destined for MIT, Boston. We brought a new updated poster and a presentation that we had already rehearsed — unlike last time. This allowed us to spend more time on Friday and Saturday hanging out as a team and watching presentations by our peers.

Even though we arrived better rehearsed for our presentation, we were not prepared for the change in atmosphere. Our competition suddenly increased as we competed not only with the North American schools, but the best of Europe, Asia, and Latin America. As the stakes increased, socializing between the teams decreased and the poster session suddenly involved costumes, candy, and key chains. Being a low budget team we did not have fancy eye-catchers; however, we still drew a wide audience. One student from another team told us to ‘please get the other restriction enzymes’ so their school would not run into a supply storage like they did this year. Peers and judges alike were eager to try our low budget protocols, restriction enzymes, and our RTX precipitation.

Unfortunately, we did not take home a trophy but it was not a loss. We each gained unique, hands on experience and learned to problem solve when something went wrong—which happened quite often. More importantly, we pulled together from different stages of life and different departments and completed a project we could call our own.

We’ll see you next year, Boston.

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