Special Programme in Science (SPS)

SPS and FoS, NUS host meet-up for Singapore teams participating in the 2018 iGEM Competition

Teams from NUS_Singapore-Sci, NUS_Singapore-A and NTU-Singapore gathering for a photo session over a pizza break in the SPS lounge (June 2018).

The international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is an international synthetic biology competition which encourages multidisciplinary undergraduate students to come together, collaborate and address real-life problems through synthetic biology approaches. The field of synthetic biology marries traditional disciplines such as genetic and genome manipulation, with engineering principles such as boolean logic and computational modelling to create living cellular machines that can perform defined tasks.

Every year, students from academic institutes all over the world form teams and work on projects that aim to solve real world problems using synthetic biology. Teams are given the opportunity to work on their research project in the wet lab, create applications and computer programs, document their work on a website and eventually communicate their project outcomes at the annual iGEM Giant Jamboree conference. iGEM projects are interdisciplinary in nature, and go beyond just the traditional discipline of science. While the medium is synthetic biology, the project can have an engineering and modelling component. For example, an enzyme produced in the lab can be used to perform an industrial chemistry reaction. iGEM teams not only execute a solution in the lab and find novel applications as a solution for real world problems, they also consider consequences such as ethics, intellectual property, education, policies and practices.

Special Programme in Science (SPS) students first participated and represented NUS in the iGEM competition in 2015 and 2016. Since then, the number of teams participating in Singapore has grown, with the addition of the team from the Faculty of Engineering, NUS on top of the previously-existing NTU team. An informal iGEM Singapore meet-up was initiated and organised by the team from SPS. The goal of this meet-up was to provide the opportunity for iGEM team members from Singapore to get to know each other, network and spark discussion. The meeting served as the first official nationwide panel to discuss possible collaborations between the three teams from the local universities: NUS_Singapore-Sci, NUS_Singapore-A and NTU-Singapore. The discussion was fruitful and initials plans regarding collaborations between teams were made.

The iGEM 2018 competition will be held at the Hynes Convention Centre, Boston, from 24 October 2018. Other participants include from teams from notable universities such as MIT, Harvard, Cornell and Stanford University.

"Mentoring the team was a natural way to share my expertise after being part of the pioneer NUS team back in 2015 then returning as team leader in 2016. As an advisor, I provide the background support in terms of technical knowledge and administrative/logistics support. This allows the team to actively develop their experimental and modelling plans, as well as their human practices efforts, which we fine tune together. Having participated in iGEM myself, I share the team’s fears and excitements throughout this enriching process. Participating in the iGEM competition is no mean feat, where a lot of time and effort have to be dedicated on top of their individual commitments as undergraduate students. It is uplifting to witness how the team has grown closer, and individually, how they have developed subject expertise beyond the scope of a typical undergraduate module. Besides that, I am also glad to see them develop critical thinking skills and gain confidence in presenting and defending their ideas to peers and experts in the field. I hope that they find this experience as rewarding as I did."

– Wong Chi Yan, 2015 iGEM team member and 2018 iGEM team advisor

Written by Tan Li Yang
Modelling (IC), Marketing Team