The Cornell iGEM Team is an award-winning synthetic biology research team comprised of 30 undergraduate students. The team is comprised of five subteams: Wet Lab, Product Development, Policy and Practices, Business, and Wiki/Design. The team works throughout the school year and summer to solve local and global problems related to medical applications, environmental concerns, and human and animal health. We compete against 300+ multidisciplinary teams from all around the world at the iGEM Giant Jamboree, hosted annually by the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation.
Synthetic biology is the field in which scientists redesign and repurpose machinery naturally found in the biological world to achieve a man-driven goal. Some famous examples of synthetic biology that have changed the world as we know it:
The Giant Jamboree is the annual competition hosted by the iGEM foundation during which hundreds of teams from around the globe gather to present their projects, network with other teams and companies, and learn more about the field of synthetic biology. It is made up of multiple different events spanning the course of four days. Everything is bookended by the opening and closing ceremonies. In between these ceremonies, some activities you might find are project presentation sessions, poster sessions and workshops, along with other special events such as a career fair or a start-up showcase. In addition to participating in these activities and speaking with other teams, you also get the chance to meet representatives from sponsor companies and talk with them as well.
The Giant Jamboree means a lot to Cornell iGEM, but not just for the reason that it’s our chance to show off our impressive work that we do annually. The Giant Jamboree is also a tremendous opportunity for team bonding and camaraderie. Each year after the Giant Jamboree ends and Cornell iGEM members head back from Boston to Ithaca, everyone leaves feeling as if they’ve gotten closer to the people around them. With the Giant Jamboree being virtual this year, we’re all very disappointed that we won’t have this opportunity to bond with each other. However, we’re still doing all that we can to ensure that Cornell iGEM is a safe place in which every member feels a sense of belonging.
Wet Lab designs and creates all biological products for Cornell iGEM through genetic circuit design and synthetic biology lab techniques. Through cloning and transformation, we genetically engineer bacteria to produce proteins, nature’s most versatile machinery.
Due to the coronavirus and lab closures, this year we are modeling our bacterial therapy project remotely. Using previous literature and mathematical models for gene expression, bacterial growth, and cancer microenvironments, we are evaluating the safety and efficacy of the bacteria portion of our breast cancer therapy.
The product development subteam is an engineering-focused, user-centered, end-to-end development team. Our end goal is to bring Cornell iGEM’s biological innovation to the real world. We apply design thinking and various engineering disciplines to explore user needs, generate a problem statement, design and prototype a solution to the problem, and create product specifications to prepare for manufacturing.
In previous years, the product development subteam has built a boat with an automatic sampling system (2019), a bioreactor (2019), planter cups that monitor and adjust oxidative conditions for the plant (2018), software that displays information about a hydroponics system in real-time to a dashboard and alerts farmers (2018), a customizable milking shell that prevents bovine mastitis (2017), an app with a built-in cell counter that also tracks trends in cow health (2017), and many more. This year, the product development team designed a hand-held fluorescence scanner to detect tumors after the person has been initially treated (see wetlab).
Policy and Practices analyzes legislation and speaks with researchers, industry professionals and the general public to contextualize and understand the impact of our projects. The subteam also coordinates outreach events such as youth mentorship programs, forums, and expos to inform and educate the public about the field of synthetic biology.
Through interviews with field experts and interactions with the public, we are reminded that the people we meet always have stories to tell. We aim to share our story with them, too.
The Business Subteam deals with Cornell iGEM’s finances, budgeting, recruiting and media material. We maintain an active and communicative relationship with our school and sponsors year round. We also work with the Policy and Practices subteam to spread awareness about synthetic biology @ Cornell both on- and off-campus through social media and hosting special events such as fundraisers and school seminars. In recent years, the Business Subteam has been trying to facilitate a team-wide transition from a competition-based organization to a truly independent synbio developer and thinktank. We hope to further mature past projects from proofs-of-concept to significant marketable products by collaborating with prominent biotech and biochemical companies.
Additionally, wiki is also in charge of maintaining and updating our project team website. From design updates to photography to adding new team members to the site, we take care of everything web related for the team!