iGEM and BIOMOD are annual international student competitions in synthetic biology and molecular nanotechnology, attracting teams from the world’s leading universities.

In iGEM, students teams develop their own projects to meet challenges in the wider world, in the process using and developing standardised tools for the engineering of biological systems. The projects, completed over the summer, are hard work, but very rewarding. Imperial first entered an iGEM team in 2006, and we have consistently been represented by talented teams with innovative projects ranging from water purification solutions, to drug delivery mechanisms, to soil erosion preventions. You can find out more about each of our projects at the bottom of this page. All the projects have been successful and rewarding, leading to papers, funding and even spin out companies. In 2016, the Imperial team won for the first time, having placed second in both 2006 and 2014. Take a look at www.igem.org for more information.

BIOMOD is a similar but smaller competition, focussing more on engineering specific molecular systems rather than whole cells (http://biomod.net/). Imperial's first BIOMOD entry was in 2019, when the self-organised team won 2nd place overall. 

iDEC (https://idec.io/) is a new competition, focusing on directed evolution. This represents the powerful irrational design method based on a rational foundation, which will fill in the shortcomings of rational design methods and reshape genetic engineering development in the next 10 years. By encouraging young students to harness the power of evolution creatively, they aim to disseminate the skills and knowledge required for tomorrow’s bioengineers, which enable them to tackle real-world problems.

If you are interested in getting involved in iGEM, iDEC, BIOMOD or similar team projects, the best thing to do is to join SynBIC. They are looking to run student-lead projects that will be the seeding ground of any future team.


iGEM 2022 - Sporadicate

Awards: Gold medal winner, top 10 undergraduate team, Best Food nomination, Best Wiki nomination, Best Supporting Entrepreneurship nomination

Abstract: Sporadicate: a broad-spectrum biofungicide based on Bacillus subtilis spores

Over the next 35 years, the world’s growing population will demand more food than has ever been produced in human history. A major source of yield loss are fungal pathogens, constituting 75% of all plant diseases. Current solutions are falling short, with farmers relying on unselective spraying of fungicides due to delayed emergence of visible symptoms, often missing the early stages of infection when treatment is most effective. We propose Sporadicate, a broad-spectrum biofungicide based on Bacillus subtilis spores that eliminates the time-lag between diagnosis and treatment. Our bacterial spores are engineered to display chitinase enzymes on the surface, which degrade the cell wall of pathogenic fungi. This generates a biomarker that can be detected via a modified receptor – enabling spores to selectively germinate into vegetative cells exhibiting biocontrol properties. Given the innate durable properties of spores, our system would be robust, easily storable, widely applicable, and cost-effective.

Visit the team website for more information.

iDEC 2021

Awards: Industry Group Award for the project with the most industrial application value, The Most Potential Tool nomination, Best Molecular Evolutionary Outcome nomination, Scientific Contribution Nomination

Abstract: induceR - developing a dual function quorum sensing transcriptor regulator

Quorum sensing (QS) allows bacteria to communicate by regulating gene expression in response to population cell density. Cell density is indicated by the concentration of diffusible autoinducer molecules produced within cells. Population-wide gene regulation is widely attractive for synthetic biology circuits to link cell-to-cell communication with decision making.

The Gram-negative quorum sensing system relies on N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs) as autoinducer molecules. Transcription regulators that bind to specific AHLs control downstream expression of genes in response to the concentration of the AHL. A key bottleneck in using quorum sensing parts to build complex genetic circuits is orthogonality between transcription regulators, either caused by non-specific binding to AHLs or non-specific binding to promoters. To address this, we designed an experimental pipeline for the directed evolution of quorum sensing transcription regulators to respond to non-cognate AHL molecules, which would expand the toolbox to build orthogonal genetic circuits.

Our protein of interest is the EsaR transcription regulator that has a rare dual activation/repression function, which would be useful as a circuit switch by allowing linked activator-repressor motifs to be constructed more efficiently. We used bioinformatics tools to design a pipeline for the evolution of EsaR, using site-saturation mutagenesis to generate a library and ON/OFF screening methods to select best performing variants. Although working with EsaR would have been preferred, we had to adapt our wet lab approach due to unforeseen circumstances and decided that working on the well-characterised homologue LuxR instead would still provide us with informative conclusions about our pipeline design whilst gaining insight into the novel properties of LuxR mutants.

We used semi-rational directed evolution has been utilised to improve the orthogonality of these density-dependent systems, by altering key residues involved in the recognition of inducer molecules, thus changing receptor sensitivity to novel molecules. Further work must be conducted to optimise such methods, although directed evolution provides a promising avenue to engineer these bacterial transcription factors for broader applications in synthetic biology.

Visit the team website for more information.

iGEM 2020 - SOAP Lab

Awards: Gold medal, Best Software Nomination

Abstract: SOAP Lab: Automating DNA Design & Assembly

DNA assembly is a vital first step in most synthetic biology projects. As genetic design spaces become larger with more complex genetic circuits and greater diversity of parts, the ability to construct sizable genetic libraries with high accuracy in a cost and time-efficient manner is imperative. While automation is an attractive and increasingly affordable solution, programming remains a technical challenge for many wet-lab scientists. To make automated workflows a practical reality, we developed SOAP Lab  (SBOL to Opentrons Agnostic Pipeline), an open-source web UI that infers genetic circuit designs from SBOL (Synthetic Biology Open Language) data files and customizes an assembly plan based on the user’s specifications. This is then used to generate ready-to-run scripts for the liquid handlers, along with set-up instructions and logs for traceability and debugging. SOAP Lab is integrable into larger software pipelines through the use of SBOL data standards, empowering labs with access to a wider suite of tools available for computer-aided biology.

Visit the team website for more information.

BIOMOD 2019 - NanoDIPs

Awards: Gold project award, 2nd place overall, 2nd best website, 2nd best video, 3rd best presentation
Traditionally, chemotherapeutic drugs are administered intravenously and circulate freely throughout the body. This inevitably kills healthy cells along with cancer cells, leading to some of the unwanted side effects of chemotherapy. Additionally, high dosage and systemic administration desensitises cancer cells, potentially leading to drug resistance. Our solution is to package the drug payload within large, unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) containing a membrane-embedded DNA nanopore. The nanopore responds to the presence of cancer-associated proteases in the immediate vicinity of the tumour, selectively releasing the drug to kill cancer cells. This is achieved by a peptide-oligonucleotide conjugate (POC) that can trigger a downstream toehold displacement reaction to open the DNA nanopore. The nanopore could be customisable towards a variety of protein biomarkers and disease contexts. This novel cancer drug delivery system could minimise the proclivity towards drug resistance and side effects of future chemotherapy treatments. 

iGEM 2018 - PixCell

Awards: Gold Medal 

Title:  PixCell: Electronic stimulation of gene expression

Abstract: Engineering complex biological systems requires precise control of gene expression. Current biological control systems fail to provide the reversible and programmable spatiotemporal control of electrical systems used in industry. Electrogenetics is an emerging field of synthetic biology investigating electronic detection and control of gene expression. We present the development of the first aerobic electrogenetic control system in E. coli for spatially-resolved control of cells. It functions through altering transcriptional activation of the SoxR/PsoxS redox-signalling system by controlling the oxidation of redox-mediators in the vicinity of electrodes. Patterning was a necessary condition for the evolution of complex multicellular life, and as such the programmable patterning demonstrated serves as an essential tool for the development of multicellular synthetic biology.

Visit the team website for more information.

iGEM 2016 - Eco-librium

Best Foundational Advance Project 
Best Education and Public Engagement
Best Wiki
Best New Basic Part
Best Poster

Title: Eco-librium: developing a framework for engineering co-cultures

In nature, microorganisms live together and cooperate to accomplish complex tasks. As synthetic biology advances, we transition from unicellular systems to engineering at the multicellular level. A major obstacle, however, is ensuring stable coexistence of different cell types in co-culture. This year we are developing a Genetically Engineered Artificial Ratio (GEAR) system to control population ratio in microbial consortia. Our device will employ a bi-directional communication system and novel RNA control that can be implemented across different bacterial strains. We are also developing software to facilitate the design and optimisation of co-cultures. In the future, we envision the GEAR system being used for microbiome engineering as well as distributed multicellular biocomputing and bioprocessing.

Visit the team website for more information.

iGEM 2014 - Aqualose


Winner: Best part collection

Winner: Best manufacturing project

Commendation: Policy and practices

Bacterial cellulose (BC) is a natural biomaterial with high purity compared with plant-derived cellulose and better mechanical properties. With more than half of the global population facing water stress in 2025 due to rising freshwater supplies, we focused on the application of BC to the global issue of water purification. As a means to improve water purification, we decided to pursue functionalised BC water filtration membranes. For this, we functionalised BC with proteins, created a toolkit for the native producer G. xylinus, sequenced its genome, transferred the cellulose synthesis operon to E. coli, mass produced BC and characterised its mechanical properties. The porosity of BC and our synthetic attachment of contaminant-specific binding proteins make for a customisable ultrafiltration membrane. This product has the potential to augment water recycling on local and industrial scales, helping to alleviate water stress.

Visit the team's website for more information

iGEM 2013 - Plasticity


Winner: Best Manufacturing project

Award: Gold Medallist

Award: Best New BioBrick Part or Device, Engineered

We have taken an expensive by-product of recycling facilities, a type of mixed waste and turned it into something quite amazing; a material that can be used for a diverse range of applications from making your lunchbox to a 3D printed tissue scaffold. This material is the bioplastic poly-3-hydroxybutyric acid P(3HB). Our system is designed to maximise the recovery of resources from the waste and so we have also investigated how we can use the oil based plastics within it. We are passionate about using synthetic biology to help us move towards a more sustainable economy. We have considered what happens to the material we produce after it is used. This led us to develop the first synthetic biology recycling system for P(3HB).

iGEM 2011 - Auxin

Imperial College London iGEM 2011 wiki



Winner: iGEMmers Prize (tie with Tokyo)

Winner: Best Poster (tie with Wash U)

Winner: Best European Wiki

Awards: Gold Medallist; Special Safety Commendation

In an effort to combat soil erosion, we have developed the Auxin system. This system is comprised of three modules combined in an E. coli chassis. The first involves secretion of the plant growth factor indole 3-acetic acid (auxin). This plant hormone will promote root growth which is essential for anchoring soil.

The second module rewires the chemotactic mobility of the cell by introducing a novel receptor protein which is sensitive to root exudates. The bacteria can then be naturally taken up by root cells for targeted auxin delivery. The final module uses a toxin-antitoxin system to prevent horizontal gene transfer. While the plasmid containing the AuxIn system can be maintained inside our chassis, it will induce lysis in any other bacteria. By improving root growth, the AuxIn system provides a synthetic biology approach to tackling worldwide problems such as soil erosion and desertification.

iGEM 2010 - Parasight

Imperial College London iGEM 2010 wiki


Winner: Best Human Practices Advance

Winner: Best Wiki (tie with Cambridge)

Awards: Gold Medallist; iGEMers Prize

More than two billion people around the world live with unrelenting illness due to parasites. Synthetic biology offers great opportunity for biosensors, however current designs require hours before useful output. To tackle this issue in the field, it's crucial that a biosensor responds in minutes, hence we have engineered a fast, modular sensor framework.

This allows detection of a range of different parasites, and may also be used as an environmental tool for mapping their spread. We have developed two new technologies that enable our modular input/output - a novel cell surface biosensor, customisable for specific parasitic proteases, linked through quorum-sensing to a new 'fast-response' module capable of producing a detectable output in minutes. To demonstrate the concept, we've designed and fabricated B. subtilis to give a striking colour readout upon detecting the waterborne Schistosoma parasite which affects 200 million people worldwide.

iGEM 2009 - The E.ncapsulator

Imperial College London iGEM 2009 wiki


Winner: Best Manufacturing

Winner: Best Human Practices (tie with Paris)

Award: Gold Medallist

Our 2009 entry attempted to solve the problem of targetting drugs to the intestine - the harsh environment of the stomach providing a daunting barrier. E. coli was tuned to produce colanic acid, a protective protein which surrounds the bacteria and protects it from acid erosion, in response to a stimulus. In addition devices were added to allow production of a drug prior to encapsulation and to destroy DNA in the cell afterward.

The project's multiple 'stages' - growth, drug production, encapsulation and attenuation - posed a challenge; how to trigger each when needed? Parts were incorporated at each stage that responded to a different stimulus - a chemical, lack of nutrients, heat and so on. This allowed fine control over the level of drug produced. The post-encapsulation destruction of the DNA in the cells (rendering them inert) in response to a trigger won us the joint Best Human Practices Advance award.

5 bioengineers and 3 life scientists made up the team, and we again came away from the Jamboree with the Best Manufacturing Project award, as well as reaching the final!

iGEM 2008 - Biofabricator subtilis

Imperial College London iGEM 2008 wiki

Winner: Best Manufacturing

Winner: Best Part

Award: Gold Medallist

This project focu ssed on turning Bacillus subtilis, a Gram-positive bacteria, into a biomaterial factory. The aim was to quickly and accurately immobilise motile bacteria by engaging a flagellar 'clutch' mechanism (a molecule called EpsE disengages the flagellum from the motor protein; we showed it worked effectively to halt bacteria and the epsE gene won us the Best Part award) in response to a light input, which would also trigger the production of biomaterial. Thus a light mask could provide the template for laying down e.g. collagen at very high resolution.

This project was ambitious as B. subtilis was a new organism to the competition, meaning we had to add all the basic parts - promoters, ribosome binding sites - to the Registry ourselves! We contributed 45 parts to the newly-formed 'B. subtilis' section of the Registry, including integration sequences which allow devices to be integrated directly onto the genome of a chassis.

The team consisted of 5 bioengineers and 4 life scientists, and at the Jamboree in Boston we won our track (Manufacturing)!

iGEM 2007 - Infector Detector

Imperial College London iGEM 2007 wiki

Award: Gold Medallist

The 2007 team focused on a medical project; producing a device that could detect urinary tract infections on catheters. These infections can spread up into the body, posing health risks to the patient; simply changing the catheter at the first stage of infection (biofilm formation) can solve the problem, but it is currently impossible to easily determine if a biofilm is being formed.

The team put together a few simple but effective parts to try and get around this issue - a detector that responds to the presence of a molecule expressed by bacteria undergoing biofilm formation, an amplifier to boost that signal and a reporter protein. Combined, these parts form a device which gives a visible cue that bacteria are gaining a hold and an infection could be imminent - with the amplifiction meaning that a compromised catheter can be noticed and replaced early in the infection cycle.

Because of the difficulty of using microorgan isms as chassis for this application, the team looked into the use of cell-free systems to allow the device to be deployed without the need for a delicate (and possibly dangerous!) host cell.

5 life scientists and 5 bioengineers formed the 2007 team, and the project is still ongoing - the aim is to eventually produce the Infector Detector as an actual medical device to use in hospitals!

iGEM 2006 - I.coli

Imperial College London iGEM 2006 wiki


Winner: Best Documentation

Winner: Best Characterisation

Award: Gold Medallist

2006 was Imperial's first year at iGEM, and we definitely made an impression! Coming second overall, our project was an attempt at that most elusive of biological systems - a stable genetic oscillator. Inspired by the Lotka-Volterra model of predator/prey interaction, which sees two populations rising and falling in a manner reliant on each other, two cell lines were made to emulate a predator/prey relationship.

Robust modelling and in silico production of the system beforehand allowed the build to progress at a rapid pace; all necessary parts and devices - including both complete predator and prey cells - were modelled, built and tested and the level of characterisation and accurate, relevant documentation of th e parts and project won us the awards in those areas.

The team included 4 bioengineers, 3 life scientists and an Electronic & Electrical Engineer and came second overall in the competition!