Imperial iGEM participation: a flagship, highly-successful student activity at the intersection of world-leading education and research at Imperial

The International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM) is the most important undergraduate competition in synthetic biology in the world. It gathers every year the very best undergraduate synthetic biology teams in the world (~300 teams in 2018) around the conception, engineering, and in vivo implementation of genetically engineered organisms for novel applications that aim to solve core societal problems such as bio-remediation, biosensing, bioenergy, advanced medicine, etc. iGEM is a fantastic example of student-led research, with high-calibre synthetic biology projects, that have been published in Science, Cell, Nature and PNAS. For example, recently, our own students have had publication in Scientific Reports and PNAS, and one project, Aqualose, led to the founding of a successful startup company, Puraffinity (formerly Customem), by Henrik Hagerman, one of the team members, who is now its CEO. In addition, more than 55% of our iGEM students have gone on to do a PhD at world-leading institutions around the globe.

Imperial iGEM teams typically consist of 8-10 students, composed of 50% bioengineering students and 50% life science students, with almost gender parity. Imperial iGEM students work over the summer to develop a project from ideation to implementation in living cells, with strong consideration of the wider impact of their work in society and extensive public engagement activities.

Our Imperial iGEM teams have been extremely successful ( over the past decade. Here are a few examples of Imperial iGEM teams’ achievements over the last eight years:

  • Imperial iGEM team 2016, project “E.colibrium”
    • World Champion (Undergraduate Grand Prize Winners, 1st worldwide amongst 297 teams, 5,600 participants from 42 countries)
    • Largest number of iGEM prizes of any Imperial iGEM team: 5 prizes won
    • Largest number of nominations for prizes ever in the iGEM competition: 8 prizes nominations
    • Presentation at events such as “the New Scientist Live” (largest broad audience science event in the UK, spanning 4 days, with 10,000 participants), and the World Giant Jamboree in Boston (3,500 participants). And the amazing video introduction to the project:

  • Imperial iGEM 2014, project “Aqualose”
    • 2nd place in the World amongst 245 teams
    • “Best Manufacturing Project” and “Best Parts Collection” awards, and “Policy and Practices” Commendation

  • Imperial iGEM 2013, project “Plasticity”
    • 3rd place in the World amongst 194 teams
    • “Best Manufacturing Project” award at the MIT World Jamboree and the “Best Engineered BioBrick” award at the European region iGEM championship

  • Imperial iGEM 2011, project “Auxin”
    • 2nd place in the World amongst158 teams, European region Grand Winner
    • “Best Poster” and “iGEMers” award at the World Jamboree, and “Best Wiki” award and “Safety” Commendation at the European Jamboree

  • Imperial iGEM 2010, project “Parasight”
    • 5th place in the World amongst 128 teams
    • “Best Human Practices Advance”, “Best Wiki” (tie with Cambridge's iGEM team), and “iGEMers” awards

The success of Imperial iGEM teams has strongly contributed to raising the research and education profile in multidisciplinary research at Imperial through the increased visibility, recognition of excellence in teaching and training, and esteem that our successful iGEM teams have brought (

Nurturing nature’s innovations – exhibits at the Natural History Museum

Nurturing nature's innovations sees members from the Natural History Museum and Imp create ‘bioinspired’ technology solutions to address everyday challenges. Selected for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2018.

Curators from the Natural History Museum and three academics from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London will display research that aims to inspire novel technologies from a selection of animals found in the collections.

Stuck on you - Jon Ablett (NHM) & Dr Adam Celiz (Imperial)

Slug-inspired biocompatible medical adhesive. Developed by mimicking key features of the Dusky Arion (Arion subfuscus) slug’s defensive slime this medical glue has unprecedented tissue adhesive properties. As well as possibly being a future alternative for stitches and sutures the material can even be used on internal wounds, working just as well under wet conditions. The exhibit will allow visitors to see the medical slime in action on organs, get hands on with “slug slime” and learn about some of the applications for this medical glue.

Enter the dragonfly - Dr Ben Price (NHM) & Dr Huai-Ti Lin (Imperial)

Research (recently featured on QI) which has shown that the dragonflies can predict the path of their prey, thereby tracking their flying targets. This exhibit aims to highlight another super sense of the dragonfly: the mechanosensory feedback of the wings. A 1m long instrumented interactive model of dragonfly wings will demonstrate the dragonfly’s mechanosensors. The work aims to develop sensory mechanisms to enable the next generation of aircrafts and unmanned aerial systems to achieve better flight control. The exhibit also features live dragonfly nymphs feeding as well as selection of the Museum dragonfly specimens.

Come fly with me - Dr Daniel Whitmore (NHM) and Professor Holger Krapp (Imperial).

Using specimens and scanning facilities at the Museum, researchers study adaptations enabling flies to keep a level gaze. Gaze stabilization turns out to be a key requirement supporting the animals’ stunningly aerobatic performance unmatched by any man-made flying device. By visualizing the neck muscle system on a micro meter scale and investigating how the flies use visual as well as mechanosensory information to control their gaze and flight, the researchers aim to advance the capabilities of future aerial robots. The exhibit will feature a VR headset that allows people to see the world through the eyes of different flying insects and to try a movement challenge.