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What is iGEM?


Since 2003, the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) competition takes place annually at the MIT in Boston. Since 2013, the competition has been hosted by the non-profit iGEM Foundation which was founded in 2012. The foundation also administers the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, a DNA building block database. The competition offers students from all over the world the chance to work on their own research projects in the field of synthetic biology. At the end of the competition, each team's work will be presented to a worldwide audience, as well as to a top-class jury for evaluation.

The competition emphasizes that the student teams do everything themselves, from project planning to the acquisition of supporters and public relations. For these projects, it is particularly important that the biological systems are first designed and simulated with the computer using mathematic models. This is why an intensive collaboration with engineering students is required.

A central element of the competitions is the use of standardized DNA building blocks, called BioBricks, which are developed in collaboration with other teams. The BioBricks are eventually compiled in a common archive, the Registry of Standard Biological Parts. Similarly, the research results are placed on wiki pages that are publicly accessible. It is expected of the teams to not only present their own project, but to also give the public an understanding of synthetic biology to support the social dialogue. In order to do so, the students must engage in all aspects of the topic. They have to organize panel discussions as well as events for and/or with high school students.

Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is a young, interdisciplinary field that unifies methods and concepts of engineering, informatics and science, and thus opens up a new area of unprecedented applications. Biological systems with novel functions are created using known DNA sequences which are unitized into building blocks. This is made possible through computer-assisted modelling. Advances in synthetic biology are particularly interesting for basic research because new tools are created at a high rate. These tools, in turn, are indispensable for gaining a better understanding of natural biological systems.


Motivation and Goals


Many young scientists dream about presenting their first big research project to a renowned professional audience. The prestigious iGEM competition provides us with an opportunity to make this dream come true. iGEM offers the ideal chance to expand our knowledge in different areas outside of our program, and to directly apply this knowledge to a current problem. Furthermore, we have the opportunity to learn modern research techniques, which go beyond the scope of our university studies. Working in an interdisciplinary team forces is to broaden our horizons, and we can learn from students studying different fields. Moreover, the competition will allow us to improve important soft skills such as the ability to work in a team, time and project management, and maintaining motivation throughout the project. We are looking forward to the international atmosphere of iGEM, and to meet like-minded student from all over the world. Lastly, it is the enthusiasm for fancy developments in synthetic biology that not only lead to new innovative products and a better life standard, but also to more sustainability.

Within the scope of our project, we want to develop a system with which pathogens on solid surfaces can be detected quickly and cost-effectively. This is essential in many respects, because presently there are no effective analytic methods for use in the health sector that can meet the increasing demands of affordability and speed. It is particularly important to detect microorganisms on solid surfaces in places where good hygiene is crucial, since—even after cleaning—microorganisms can still be present in dangerous amounts. This is demonstrated by the high number of 1.7 million infections per year in the US health sector, of which approximately 10,000 resulted in death (Klevens et al., 2002). A large number of these cases would be preventable, however, there is a present lack of adequate tools for practical application. We not only want to develop a detection system that alerts the patient to the presence of pathogens, but one that can also identify and quantify these microorganisms. Only in this way is it possible to reliably estimate the danger of infection.


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Side Projects


Teaching Module "Synthetic Biology" for Highschools

Overview

In the course of our cooperation with the grade 9 biology-chemistry class at Kaiser-Karl-Gymnasium, a secondary school in Aachen, we developed a teaching module about “Synthetic Biology”. The scope of the module is 8 school classes 45 min. each. Topics include sources and exposure to microorganisms in our environment, antibiotic resistances, quorum sensing, fluorescence and measurement thereof, as well as the biomolecular aspect of our iGEM project. To wrap up the module we do some career-exploration in synthetic biology and related fields.

Students at Kaiser-Karls-Gymnasium preparing vanilla pudding solution for fluorescence measurement.
Students at Kaiser-Karls-Gymnasium preparing vanilla pudding solution for fluorescence measurement.

The teaching module is suitable for the subjects biology, biology-chemistry and sciences. The students should have completed grade 8, and know about the central dogma of biology as well as protein biosynthesis. Because our work is going to be evaluated based on our wiki, we would like to take photos during the lessons. In order to publish the photos on our homepage and our wiki, we need a consent form signed by the students’ parents. If you are interested in collaborating with our team write us an email at igem@rwth-aachen.de



We already carried out this teaching module in cooperation with Kaiser-Karls-Gymnasium. For each of the lessons we have recorded our experience in a blog entry. You can access the respective blog entry through the following hyperlinks:

Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lessons 3 & 4

Lessons 5 & 6

Lesson 7

Lesson 8


About RWTH Aachen University


RWTH Aachen University, as the name implies, is a technical university located in the beautiful town of Aachen, Germany. Aachen is Germany's westernmost city, near the borders to the Netherlands, Belgium and France, and has a population of just over 260,000. More than 37,000 of those are undergrad and grad students attending RWTH. A not very suprising fact is that RWTH is the biggest employer in Aachen. The city is very well known for its amazingly beautiful cathedral and an also really nice looking city hall in the heart of the city, and for centuries has been very popular because of its sulfur-containing hot springs.

The university was founded in 1870 as a technical school meant to educate engineers for the predominant mining industry in the area. When founded, RWTH only taught chemistry, electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as generel natural sciences and mathematics. Today RWTH has nine faculties: Mathematics, Computer Science and Natural Science, Architecture, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Georesources and Materials Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, Arts and Humanities, Business and Economics, and last but not least, Medicine. Overall RWTH offers 101 programs through those faculties. However, RWTH is mostly known for its excellent engineering programs, especially for the education and research done by the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, and 49% of all students study an engineering discipline.

RWTH does not have a main campus. Instead the buildings are more or less distributed throughout the whole city. There are, though, three core areas called Campus Mitte (campus near the city centre), Campus Melaten (area in the west of the city) and Campus Hörn (area located inbetween those two). Campus Melaten is where the teaching hospital and most buildings belonging to the natural sciences are located. Currently, the university is expanding Campus Melaten by a 260,000 sq. m large science and innovation park.

In 2007 RWTH and the Jülich Research Centre formed the research cooperation Jülich-Aachen Research Alliance (JARA). Jülich Research Centre is located a 30 min. car drive away from Aachen, and is one of the largest interdisciplinary research centres in Europe. Our iGEM team supervisors are professors from RWTH as well as Jülich Research Centre.


Contact

iGEM Team Aachen

Worringerweg 1, 52074 Aachen

http://igem.rwth-aachen.de

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