Since 2004, MIT has hosted iGEM - the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. Teams of students (mostly undergraduates) work through the summer and into the fall, conducting research in the field of synthetic biology. Approximately a third of the teams from regional competitions worldwide gather yearly in Cambridge, MA to present their work at the iGEM World Championship Jamboree.

The 2012 iGEM World Jamboree in Cambridge, MA (photo courtesy of iGEM HQ)

I've been one of the advisors for Berkeley's iGEM team since 2008. This year, io9 is giving me the opportunity to journal the process. I hope to give you an idea of what it's like to craft, implement, and (frequently) adjust the direction of iGEM synthetic biology research.

The Advisors

John (Assistant Prof), Terry (Lecturer), Zach (Graduate Student Advisor), and Chris (Interested Party)


John is our synthetic biology guru and his lab hosts the team. I assist on assays, experimental design, and the presentations. Zach manages the team and keeps the project on track, and Chris (a former iGEMmer himself) attends our meetings and offers input.

The iGEM team


Berkeley undergraduates Hojae, Bernardo, Thomas, Ramya, and Roy.

These are the people who get the job done! Currently they're synthesizing DNA to do proof-of-principle experiments that will determine which parts of the project will be easy, which will be hard, and which will be really, really hard.

In my next post I'll discuss our current conception of this year's project, why I'm careful to say "current conception", and how and why we've chosen this project to work on.


Terry D. Johnson is a Berkeley bioengineering lecturer and author. He has been co-advising Berkeley's iGEM team since 2008, and will be one of the lead judges for the North America region this year. His writings here do not necessarily reflect the views of iGEM HQ, Berkeley, or possibly himself, after further contemplation.