Team:TU Delft/Practices

iGEM TU Delft

Human Practices


We believe to develop products or applications responsibly, your idea has to be positioned into the real world. Therefore, the potential benefits and risks of our project were determined in an extensive product and application analysis. To analyse the risks in a systematic way, we have developed a hands-on tool, which can be used by other iGEM teams as well.

Furthermore, to specify the desires of companies and the public, we have interacted with these stakeholders and have adapted our design. The experts have mentioned that for multiple industrial applications it is important that the biolenses are all uniform and spherical. To make our project more suited for industrial applications, we have done research into possibilities to make the cells spherical. We have succeeded to make spherical cells that can be used to produce spherical biolenses.

Moreover, our team greatly values being part of the diverse and international iGEM community. We believe that iGEM strongly contributes in the development of synthetic biology, and have studied how its influence, potential and practice could be expanded . Therefore, we have written an analysis about iGEM with recommendations that can be used by, for example, the iGEM headquarters to optimize the potential of iGEM even more. or example, our complete analysis includes recommendations such as increased external collaborations between teams and the introduction of a biosafety-focused track.

  • Product analysis
    Our project can be transformed into multiple applications. Here we explore and analyse the different potential real-life applications of our developed technologies.
  • Risk Assessment Tool
    While doing the safety analysis of our own project, we took inspiration from the way risks are systematically analysed in other research disciplines. It appears that in many disciplines, such as aerospace engineering and chemically engineering, risk analysis is done in a more standardized manner. Therefore, we have decided to develop and easy safety analysis tool that, we hope, other iGEM teams (or research groups) could use as a standard to evaluate the safety risks associated with their project. We also used the tool ourselves to analyse the potential risks of our own project.
  • Risk Assessment
    Based on the results of our safety analysis, we concluded that our project could carry multiple risks that are important to identify and minimize, before transforming it into real life applications. The risks analysis, for example, showed that the antibiotic resistance of our microorganisms is a potential risk that have to be eliminated before the biolenses are allowed to leave the lab. One possibility to do this, is by sterilizing the biolenses and in that way make the microorganisms inside the biolenses inviable. In this section we have tested tree methods, respectively diffusion limitation, autoclaving and UV-sterilization.
  • Experts’ Opinion
    It is important for us to understand the context of the industries in which our technologies could potentially operate. For that purpose, we decided to meet and discuss with different experts from our field of research, including physicists, experts in the field of imaging techniques or safety. Our conversations helped us improving our project significantly. For example, physicists have helped us to understand the physics behind our project and improve our models therefore, and because uniformity was important for many potential applications with microlenses, we decided to alter the cell shape to spherical.
  • Business plan
    One of the potential applications of our project, is the use of biological micro lenses for the development of novel solar panels. The efficiency of solar panels can be increased by using an encapsulation layer of microlenses which result in more light capturing. We focused on this application to develop an business plan. Our plan was based on an extensive customer analysis, which helped us identifying customers’ special needs and requests.
  • Analysis about iGEM
    We believe that iGEM has proven its added value to the synthetic biology world. However, we also think that there are always ways to optimize the potential of iGEM even more. Therefore, we have written an analysis about iGEM with many recommendations about, for example, new medal requirements and possibilities to increase the scientific impact of iGEM further.
  • Toolbox page
    Based on the analysis we concluded that it would be useful to have a webpage that lists a selection of interesting tools that could be useful for the iGEM community, such as educational card games and tools that can be used in the lab. Our site can be used as a starting point to build an extensive Toolbox iGEM page.
  • Outreach and Conferences
    It is crucial to communicate the public about the potential benefits and risks of our project, especially in our case about the importance of improving imaging techniques. Also we wanted to learn about our projects’ public perception. Here we compile different efforts to reach out to the public, visiting multiple event and congresses, as well as organizing workshops.

Product analysis

The goal of our project was in the first place to improve imaging techniques and in that way improve the microscope. For this we have used microlenses, which make it possible to capture the light more efficiently. However, there are a lot of other applications where light capturing also appears to be a limiting factor. In this section we will give a summary of three of the potential applications in which our microlenses also could be used.

Solar panels

solar panel
Solar panel with a microlens array (Xie, 2015)

Most people agree that to curb global warming and to prevent shortage, a variety of measures needs to be taken. Probably the best response to the growing energy problem is to switch to renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is collected from resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Since in less than an hour, the theoretical potential of the sun represents more energy striking the earth’s surface than worldwide energy consumption in one year, this is considered to be the most promising renewable energy source (Crabtree, 2006). Solar panels would therefore be a perfect solution to solve the energy problem. However, the efficiency of solar panels is still very low nowadays and has to be increased to make them profitable. One promising finding is the use of microlens arrays (MLAs). It is already proven that the use of a MLA as an encapsulation layer for the solar panels results in 20% to 50% increase of the efficiency (Jutteau, Paire, Proise, Lombez, & Guillemoles, 2015; Nam, Kim, Lee, Yang, & Lee, 2013). However, the production of these MLAs is still relatively expensive and especially very environmental unfriendly (Nam et al., 2013). Therefore, it is economically not favorable to use MLAs at the moment and perhaps even more important for us, it does not fit the idea about environmentally friendly solar panels. After all, the production is very environmentally unfriendly.

Our biologically produced microlenses can form a solution for this problem. The biologically produced microlens is an extremely small lens that can be used to make environmentally friendly and eventually cheaper microlens arrays. The biological MLA as encapsulation layer will therefore result in more efficient and more environmental friendly solar panels.


Schematic representation of light field imaging (Lytro, 2015)

Both camera manufacturers Nikon and Olympus told us that light capturing becomes a more and more limiting factor in the camera industry. Especially for high-speed-imaging and low-light-imaging the hardware is very developed, but they cannot improve techniques further because of the inability to capture enough light. Microlens arrays could provide a solution to this problem.

Also research is done into the use of microlenses to produce lightweight cameras that can be used in for example smartphones. For smartphones it is important that the cameras are both lightweight and have a high resolution. Microlenses could be used to create both lightweight and high-resolution cameras, according to (Nikon)

Microlens can also be used to achieve light field photography. The LightField is defined as all the lightrays at every point in space travelling in every direction. It is essentially 4D data, because every point in three-dimensional space is also attributed a direction. Where normal cameras only can record a two-dimensional representation of a scene, LightField cameras have a microlens array just in front of the imaging sensor. In this way the lenses will be split up what would have become a 2D-pixel into individual light rays just before reaching the sensor. With the help of sophisticated software, all these tiny images can be combined to sharp 3D model of the scene. Lytro is one of the first companies that is already working on consumable light field cameras with microlenses (Nolf, 2016).

According to Nikon, another possibility to use microlenses is when you want to focus multiple focal planes at the same time. This means that you can focus upon different points that are not at the same height (z-direction). Regular camaras or microscopes can only focus upon one height at the same time.

For the last two options, it is important that the microlenses always have exactly the same properties. This means that they should always have the same size and the same optical properties. A FACS scanner could probably be used to do detect the cells with certain properties. However, more research is required to make this possible. For the applications where the goal is purely to capture more light, it is not necessarily a requirement that every microlens has the exact same properties. The biologically produced microlenses can easily be implemented in these kinds of applications.

Optical fibres

optical fibres
A single-mode optical fiber with microlens (Altman, 2007)

For all the above described applications, microlens arrays are used. Single microlenses can be used to couple light to optical fibres. Optical fibres are very thin, flexible and transparent fibres that are made from silica or plastic (Karp, Tremblay, & Ford, 2010). They are mostly used to transmit light between the two ends of the fibre. Because they permit transmission over longer distances and higher bandwidths than for example wire cables and the amount of loss is much smaller compared to metal wires, they are widely used in communication applications, such as telecommunication and computer networking. Microlenses can be used to make the optical fibres even more efficient(Karp et al., 2010).

Suitability of our lenses for the different applications

We succeeded to produce almost spherical microlenses. As described before, for many applications light capturing is a limiting factor. Based on our modeling, we can conclude that our microlenses focuses light and the lenses can be used to capture light more efficiently therefore. However, the modeling also shows that our biouologically produced microlenses have no focal point but a focal area. For multiple applications this is an important requirement. For example, Nikon told us that the lenses they use for their cameras should have a very specific focal point with a very small acceptable deviation. This means that our biological microlenses, that do not have a focal point and are currently not exactly uniform, are not suitable to be used as a camera lens at the moment.

For applications were the uniformity or focal point is from less importance and the goal is purely to capture more light, our microlenses are very suitable. For example, for solar panels, an array of microlenses is used as encapsulation layer. The more lenses per array, the more light can be captured, which means that the lenses have to be as small as possible. We have shown in the experimental part of our project that we are able to produce spherical microlenses that are around 1 um, which make them 10-100x smaller than conventional microlenses. Current techniques are not sufficient enough to produce microlenses of this size at large scale (Krupenkin, Yang, & Mach, 2003). Therefore, our microlenses solve production limitations encountered in the conventional microlens industry.

In conclusion, our microlenses are currently not suitable for applications were uniformity or a local point is required, such as camera lenses. However, for applications were solely the goal is to capture light, for example for solar panels or optical fibres, the microlenses are often very suitable, because they are so small.

Risk Assessment Tool


“iGEM teams follow a high standard of safe and responsible biological engineering. Because you are members of the synthetic biology community, you are responsible for living up to the trust placed in you to design, build, and share biological devices safely” (iGEM HQ, 2016). With this setting we started our own safety analysis. We have analyzed our working space, ensured that every team member completed the required safety trainings and tests, and that every member who helped with the laser setup received an extensive laser safety training. Furthermore, we analyzed the chemicals, looked into the organisms and did research into the vectors we used.

Although we managed to write an extensive safety proposal and filled in all the required forms, we did notice a lack of standardization of the approach to risk management in the field of synthetic biology. It appears that in many technological disciplines, such as aerospace engineering or chemical engineering, risk analyses are done in a more standardized manner. The relative novelty of the field of synthetic biology is a possible explanation for the absence of a well-developed risk management system, however, this is not an excuse. The potentially large and controversial impacts the integration of GMOs in society and nature could have, create the need for proper and complete identification, assessment, mitigation and management of all synbio-associated risks. Not only our team, but also the dutch national institute for public health and the environment (RIVM) has identified the need for a watertight system to perform these important risk analyses and we have collaborated with them to develop the tool. Therefore, we decided to develop an easy risk assessment tool that other iGEM teams or research groups could use as a standard to evaluate the safety risks associated with their project.

The idea behind the tool

The tool provides help in determining the relevance of general risks encountered in synthetic biology experimenting. We encountered several complicating factors in the design and implementation of the Risk assessment tool. Firstly, a complete risk analysis is of considerable size and complexity, and project-specific factors play an important role in determining the project-related risks. The time frame of iGEM and the presence of many important subparts next to policy and practice and safety rendered making a very extensive risk assessment framework impossible. Furthermore, assessment of risks – their probability of occurrence and severity of consequence – is only reliable and generally applicable when supported by large sets of statistical data. The novelty of synthetic biology, as mentioned before, implies that reliable assessment of all possible risks is simply impossible due to lack of data. These difficulties resulted in the decision to make a fairly generic tool, applicable to a wide range of synbio-oriented projects.

Risk level is defined as ‘Probability of occurrence’ times ‘Severity of consequence’. A risk with very mild consequences, such as being stung by a mosquito, can become critical when the probability of occurrence is very high – e.g. a probability of 0.8 out of 1 that you will be stung once every minute. Conversely, a risk with disastrous consequences, such as being hit by a truck, does not have to be critical when the probability is very low – e.g. a probability of 1 in a million (0.000001) that it will occur once in your life. Theoretically, it is best to design an experiment in such a way that the risks have minor consequences and a low probabilities. In practice, however, this is not always possible; though the goal of risk management is, for all risks, to diminish the probability of occurrence, the severity of consequence, or both, such that safety can be ensured with high fidelity. The first steps in achieving this goal are the identification and assessment of present risks. In the Risk assessment tool several general risks (identified by the team) are presented to the user, and a simple solution to obtain an indication of their criticality is provided. Creating awareness of the risks that are critical enables mitigation of these risks and an increase in the level of safety.

The final version of the tool addresses risks following from the used chemical compounds and risks following from the used type of organisms and vectors. Firstly, the user can indicate which chemical compounds are used in the experiment and in what way these are used (concentration and frequency of use) (figure 1).

Figure 1: The user can indicate which chemical compounds are used in the experiment and in what way these are used.

The tool analyzes this information using material safety data on the chemicals in question, which results in a quantification of the risks the chemicals pose. Five classes of compound-related risks are distinguished; oxidation, explosion, flammability, health hazard, and environmental hazard; roughly based on the GHS hazard categories. Upon user input providing the CAS-number of the to be analyzed compounds, the tool searches the database of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for hazard level classification data, which is returned to the tool memory. The analyzed chemicals are distributed over three hazard levels, based on the classification data obtained. The hazard level determines the severity of consequence assigned to the corresponding chemical risk. The user input on concentration of the used compounds and frequency of use determine the probability of occurrence of the corresponding chemical risk. The user can choose from three different options for both concentration and frequency of use (low, medium, high).

Risk Matrix
Figure 2: Risk matrix about the risks of the chemical compounds

Secondly, the user is asked to answer a set of questions about the host organism, donor organism, and vectors used in the experiments (figure 3).th The questions included in the tool are based on Dutch legislation on the use of GMOs, and the answers given are assigned a risk level according to this legislation.

Figure 3: The user is asked to answer a set of questions about the host organism, donor organism and vectors used in the experiments.

The answers to these question result in one specific risk level of the environmental and health related risk associated with the release of the GMO in question. This risk level governs an advice given on the required lab safety.

solar panel
Figure 4: Risk matrix about the synthetic biology risks

The analysis of our own tool

We have used the tool ourselves to analyze the risks of our project again. Based on the analysis it appears that no high chemical risk levels are associated with our project. Of course, risks are present, however, the conditions of our experiments are such that an acceptably low risk level is ensured at all times. For example, we use ethidium bromide, which is a carcinogenic compound and thus has serious consequences. Therefore, we wear protective gloves when working with it and we limit the frequency of use to the lowest number possible, to reduce the probability of occurrence of the health risks associated with ethidium bromide. An experiment cannot be free of risks, but in every situation much focus is placed on keeping risk levels as low as possible.

The GMO risk assessment of the tool showed that this risk level is limited in our project as well. We do not use pathogenic organisms or vectors derived from a virus. However, when our product is used outside the lab, a high severity of consequence is associated with the risk of bringing an organism with antibiotic resistance into the outside world. The reason for this is that it could lead to widespread antibiotic resistance among micro-organisms in the environment. Therefore, it is important that we try to mitigate this risk. We will analyze how we can diminish this risk level in the section Risk assessment.

The Synthetic biology risk assessment tool can be downloaded Risk assessment Tool. After downloading, extract the zipped folder and save all files in the same folder on your computer. To run the program, go to the folder in which you saved the extracted files and look for EXE-Risk_assessment_tool_TU_Delft.exe. Double click this executable file and the program will open.

Risk Assessment


In this section we have analyzed the safety measures that have to be taken to implement our biolenses into real world applications, such as the solar panels or in a microscope. We have concluded that our biolenses are not allowed to leave the ML-1 labs because of the antibiotic resistance or our microorganisms. When we sterilize the biolenses, which basically means that the cells inside the lenses are not viable anymore, our biolenses will be allowed to leave the ML-1 lab. We have tested tree methods, respectively diffusion limitation, autoclaving and UV-sterilization. Based on the extensive analysis we have concluded that UV-sterilization is the best solution. This is the only method that is proven to fully sterilize the cells without destroying the shape.


When our biological lenses will be implemented in real world applications, they will leave the ML-1 lab. Current (European) ML-1 safety regulations do not always allow the use of GMOs outside the lab. To determine what the requirements would be in the Netherlands, we have had a discussion with Boet Glandorf, risk assessor from the Dutch national institute for public health and the environment (RIVM). She told us that under strict conditions, it is allowed to use genetically modified organism outside the lab. For example, there are specific rules and requirements about the products the micro-organism may produce, the possibilities of horizontal gene transfer and the origin of the inserts and vectors. One has to apply for a license and when you meet all the requirements, the RIVM can adopt the use of the micro-organism outside the lab. The RIVM often works together with parties that apply for a license to adapt the micro-organism or the product in order to meet all the requirements.

Based on our safety analysis, we can conclude that the microlenses are not associated with significant risks. However, we still expect that we cannot apply for a license to use them outside the lab. This is mainly because we express our genes on a plasmid with antibiotic resistance, which should probably be substituted by chromosomally integrated genes. Because of the potential danger on widespread antibiotic resistance, the RIVM does not allow products with a micro-organism with a plasmid with antibiotics resistance. Furthermore, although there are possibilities to use living genetically modified organisms outside the lab in the Netherlands, this is not the case of all countries. Therefore, we have researched the possibilities to make the micro-organisms metabolic silent or more preferably not viable anymore. We need to find a method to sterilize the biolenses without destroying the shape or optical properties.

We have tested three methods to sterilize the biolenses:

  • Limiting diffusion
  • Autoclave
  • UV-radiation
  • Limiting diffusion

    We hypothesized that as a consequence of the polysilicate layer, the nutrient supply becomes limited by diffusion, which can eventually result in cell death. When we can guarantee that cell death occurs as a result of the polysilicate layer, further sterilization methods become unnecessary.

    Based on the results, it appears that after an hour most of the cells with a coating of polysilicate are not viable anymore. Our hypothesis could be correct therefore and diffusion could become limiting because of the polysilicate layer. However, more research is necessary to be fully sure about this.

    The coating can form an easy and cheap solution to sterilize the biolenses. Furthermore, the microlenses will remain intact, which is crucial to be able to use them in applications, such as in solar panels and microscopes. However, there are major drawbacks to this method. First of all, there is still a minor chance that cells are able to survive with the coating. Furthermore, it is possible that some of the cells are not entirely coated with polysilicate and can therefore survive. Also, no research has been done into what happens to the cells when the coating breaks. For example, it might be possible that the cells can start growing again.


    Autoclaving is used to sterilize surgical equipment, laboratory instruments, pharmaceutical items, and other materials. It can sterilize solids, liquids, hollows, and instruments of various shapes and sizes. Steam and/or pressure is used to kill the bacteria, spores, etc.

    In the second method, we have this process to sterilize the biolenses. As mentioned before, autoclaving is often used in laboratory settings. For example, equipment and supplies can be sterilized by subjecting them to high-pressure saturated steam for a certain period, depending on the size of the load and the contents.

    By autoclaving the microlenses it is almost sure that the micro-organism are not viable afterwards. Therefore, we considered this to be a relatively easy and reliable solution. However, based on the SEM-images (Figure 1), we have to conclude that the microlenses did not remain intact after autoclaving them.

    Figure 1: E. coli BL21 cells transformed with Sil_Sdom, provided with silicic acid and were autoclaved and subsequently imaged by with SEM.


    UV-sterilization is a process where UV-radiation is used to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions (Parmegiani, Cognigni, & Filicori, 2009).

    In the last method, we have used UV-sterilization to sterilize biolenses. It appears that the cells do not grow after the UV-sterilization and therefore it is useful to sterilize the biolenses. The cells were not viable after the treatment, while the shape remained intact. However, it appeared to be important that the surface that is exposed to the UV-radiation, is relatively large compared to the volume. Otherwise not all the cells are sufficiently irradiated. Since for most potential applications a microlens array is required, where the surface/volume ratio is extremely high, this is considered not to be a problem.

    Another advantage of UV sterilization is the fact that the UV lamps are, compared to other sterilization devices, relatively inexpensive. Furthermore, UV lamps may be found in lightweight models that are highly portable, hence convenient to use. All in all, UV-sterilization is particularly suitable for the sterilization of the biolenses.


    In this section we have discussed three different possibilities to sterilize the biolenses. The methods were compared on multiple aspects. Table 1 summarizes the results of this comparison.

    Table 1: Comparison of the three potential sterilization methods.
    Diffusion limitation Autoclave UV radiation
    How well are the biolenses sterilized? + +++ ++
    How certain is that no cells are viable after sterilization? -- +++ ++
    Does the biolens shape remain intact? +++ --- +++
    How expensive is the sterilization? +++ + ++
    How big are the risks of the sterilization process for human health? +++ + -
    How harmful is the sterilization process for human health? +++ - +
    How time expensive is the sterilization process? +++ -- +

    Based on the table it appears that the biolenses are most sufficient sterilized when the autoclave is used. However, since the shape of the microlenses does not remain, this is not considered to be an option. A growth study has shown that the cells normally do not survive with a polysilicate layer. Therefore, this would be the most optimal sterilization method, because no extra materials, proceedings or time is required. However, as described before, there are multiple possible scenarios in which the micro-organisms could survive. More research is required in the chance of survival of the micro-organisms before we would advise this type of sterilization. In the meantime UV-sterilization provides a good solution to sterilize the biolenses. For all experiments we have done with our biolenses outside the ML-1 zones, we have used UV-sterilization.

    Experts' Opinions


    It is important for us to understand the context of the industries in which our technologies could potentially operate. For that purpose, we decided to meet and discuss with different experts from our field of research, including physicists, experts in the field of imaging techniques or safety.

    Our goal was to better understand the physics behind our project to improve among other things our models. Furthermore, to specify the desires of companies and the public, we have interacted with these stakeholders. Finally, we wanted to know what the opinion of safety experts is about our Risk Assessment Tool.

    Our conversations helped us improving our project significantly. For example, physicists have helped us to understand the whispering gallery modes and because uniformity was important for many potential applications with microlenses, we decided to alter the cell shape to spherical.

    Pierre-Emmanuel Monet and Emma Verver - Nikon

    Date: 19-09-2016

    In order to find out more on possible applications of our biological lenses and their market value, we went to Nikon, one of the biggest companies in optics and optical systems. We were welcomed at the European headquarters of Nikon in Amsterdam by Pierre-Emmanuel Monet, European Product Specialist, and Emma Verver, Key Account Manager, where we had a good talk on the possible applications of our microlenses.

    Mr. Monet pointed out that one of the main advantages of our biological microlenses over conventional microlenses is their way of production. Since our microlenses are produced under physiological conditions, whereas the conventional microlenses undergo an environmentally unfriendly treatment during their production, they are a lot ‘greener’ than conventional microlenses. Currently, it is extremely important for big companies such as Nikon to invest in and use ecological materials:

    “It is currently very important for us to use ecological materials that do not harm the environment, and we invest in this. Biological microlenses fit this ideal and are therefore very relevant

    If our microlenses are able to reach the specifics of conventional lenses, it would definitely be an interesting solution to make the field of optics a little greener. However, we did learn that there are only very small margins in which microlenses can differ from each other. For most optical purposes it is very important that the produced lenses do not have a lot of variation. This underlines the importance of studying cell shape control to control the shape and size of our microlenses. Mrs. Verver and Mr. Monet also suggested looking for a system for sorting the cells on size. We could probably do this with a system like FACS, which is definitely worth researching a little more.

    During the talk, a lot of new interesting applications for our cells were discussed. The lenses could certainly have applications in microscopy, by applying them either on a detector or on the surface of a lens to harvest more light. Using multiple tiny lenses could also lead to a new technique where multiple images of different focal planes could be made. Also, when our microlenses would be well-developed, they could be of use in consumer electronics, such as DSLR cameras, also for the purpose of harvesting more light. This would result in smaller, lightweight cameras. Especially for high-speed imaging and low-light imaging, both in microscopy and photography, the amount of light on the detector light is limiting. This might be improved by adding a layer of microlenses. One of the obstacles that Mr. Monet identified was the possible contamination our microlenses could cause. If one of the lenses breaks, the E. coli could get out. Therefore, we have to invest more research into the possibility to kill the cells within the microlens without disturbing the lens.

    We have learned a lot on the possible applications of our microlenses and also identified some new obstacles to research a little further!

    “Microlenses have very interesting possible applications in improving microscopy and photography. Capturing more light will improve high-speed imaging and low-light imaging.”

    Ronald van Dijk - Olympus

    Date: 07-09-2016

    When writing a business plan and investigating the potential use and commercial viability of a product, it is very important to talk to potential customers and collaborators. Therefore, we went to Zoeterwoude to have a talk with Ronald van Dijk, Application Specialist Microscopy at Olympus, a worldwide leading manufacturer of optical and digital precision technology. We discussed both possible applications of our biologically produced microlenses as well as the potential to actually sell our product to companies as Olympus. Initially we wanted to apply our cells in confocal microscopes, but Mr. van Dijk recommended us not to do this, because the confocal pinhole is specifically designed to select a small range of data, and losses are minimal. However, Spinning Disk microscopy does cope with high losses of light, and information, so it would be much more viable to apply our microlenses there. There is already a patent for the use of conventional microlenses in Spinning Disk microscopy, so we should really show our cells are different than current systems. Furthermore, he recommended us to find out the exact price over quality ratio of our lenses.

    One of our biggest competing fields would be sprayed plastic lenses, which are also cheap and produced in high numbers. Therefore, we should be able to produce our microlenses for either a lower price or with a higher quality, which is very useful information for our business plan. The talk with Mr. van Dijk gave us a lot of new input, especially for the entrepreneurship part of the project, but he also underlined the potential of our project in the optics industry:

    “Light is a limiting factor in imaging, adding a microlens array to a microscope would be an interesting solution.

    Aurèle Adam - Imaging Physics

    Date: 19-09-2016

    Today we talked with Aurèle Adam, an assistant professor at the optics group of the TU Delft. We had a conversation with him about our model for the biolenses and how to interpret the graphs we plotted. Furthermore, he introduced us to his PhD student Daniel Nascimento-Duplat who has been a valuable collaborator of our project. Daniel gave us valuable guidance in debugging the COMSOL models and interpreting some of the results. Additionally, we used the specialized software CST Design Studio to model our biological micromenses and performed the most complicated calculations in his server.

    Pieter van Gelder - Professor in safety science

    Date: 01-08-2016

    We had an interesting talk with Pieter van Gelder, a professor of safety science at the faculty of technology, policy and management of Delft University of Technology and director of the TU Delft Safety and Security Institute. Professor van Gelder explained to us how his research group analyzes the safety of projects. They use a lot of statistical data in combination with models in order to analyze risks in a systematic way. He stressed that, for example about the risks within the chemical industry and the chance of dike breaches is much more data available than about the risks within a new research field such as synthetic biology. “I think a very comprehensive research should be done into the possible risks of synthetic biology. Your tool could be an important starting point of this research.”

    Pieter van Gelder

    Ewold Verhagen - AMOLF

    Date: 14-07-2016

    Today we talked to Ewold Verhagen, an expert on optics on nanoscales. He explained how whispering gallery modes work and how to take the small length scales compared to the wavelength into account: we should use Mie theory and not whispering gallery modes and ray tracing. Even though the size of our cavities is very small, he was really enthusiastic about our project and said: ‘This is a whole new field where there is much to discover’.

    Ewold Verhagen

    Arjen Amelink - TNO

    Date: 30-06-2016

    We had a great talk with Arjen Amelink, Senior Scientist at the Optics department of TNO, one of the largest research institutes of the Netherlands. Arjen has a lot of experience in the field of micro optics and took a lot of time to brainstorm with us on how to make our project a success. We had a good discussion on to how to reach population inversion, a state where most of the fluorescent proteins are excited, so we will definitely take this into account when setting up our excitation lasers! Also, Arjen told us he was very enthusiastic about our project, but advised us to always keep a real-world application in mind, even with such a fundamental project as ours. He thought that the silicatein, that can assemble monosilica, but also metaloxides, was a promising alternative for 3D printing on microscale. We will definitely look into all these applications and hopefully our project will be useful for a wider range of applications than we already imagined!

    Arjen Amelink



    We believe that it is important to think about the way to implement a synthetic biology project in real life. This is why we have decided to write a business plan about our microlens arrays (MLAs). Our MLAs can be used as encapsulation layer for solar panels resulting in improved efficiency.

    We have written our business plan in three steps:

    In the first step, the introduction phase, we have used the Business model canvas as a starting point. The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management - and entrepreneurial tool. It allows us to describe, design, challenge and invent our business model. In our opinion it is a very useful tool to get the first insight into a new business.

    In the second step we have done extensive research into our customers. We have talked to multiple potential customers in order to determine exactly what their needs are and how our product can meet these needs.

    In the third, and final, step we have used the knowledge of the previous two steps to write a complete business plan that can be used to talk with potential investors and can function as blueprint for our future startup.

    Key Partnership

    We have to establish several key partnerships with multiple parties. First of all, the suppliers of raw materials can be considered as important key partners. Among them there are, for example, companies that deliver the required mediums, nutrients, etc. With those companies we will have a buyer-supplier relationship, motivated by a need to acquire key resources. Another key partnership is with the suppliers of production equipment (reactors). With these companies there will be a longtime relationship. For example, a service contract could make them responsible for irregularities, while we guarantee them monthly revenues. It is important to analyze which companies are unreplaceable. For example, are there companies that produce a specific raw material that only they produce. In that case, we are very depending on that specific partner and this could be a risk. When the company, for instance, is not able to deliver the products or even goes bankrupt this can result in production problems. Therefore, it is important to analyze those possible risk and, if possible, to find alternatives in order to reduce the risks.

    Key Activities

    The company has two possible main activities, the manufacturing of the MLAs or being a licensor of the MLAs. As manufacturer we will produce the MLAs and sell them to a specific or multiple different solar panel manufacturers. It is important that the production pathway of the company, and the final product is adapted to the solar panel companies. As producer we have to decide what production process we will be using and decide on the right technologies, machines, inventory management system, etc. Furthermore, we have to think about aspects such as the right production capacity, quality, cost control, etc.

    A second option is to be a licensor. In that case, an external party will get permission to produce their own biologically MLAs. A solar panel manufacturer could for example prefer to produce the MLAs by themselves, instead of buying them from us. As licensor you have to think in detail about the legal aspects of your further licensor/licensee relationship.

    Key Resources

    It is important that we patent our product to ensure the exclusive rights to produce and sell it. The intellectual properties are therefore the most important key resources of the company. The patent will be associated with specific knowledge and expertise that is present within the company. Therefore, human resources are important for the company as well. Finally, the production capacity of the company is a form of physical resource that will make the company unique.

    Value Proposition

    The biological microlens is an extremely small lens that can be used to increase the efficiency solar panels. In contrast to regular chemically produced MLAs, our MLAs are produced environmentally friendly and eventually cheaper too. Therefore, the main value of proposition of our company is that with our product the efficiency of the solar panels of our customers will be improved with an environmental friendly and affordable method.

    Customer Relationships

    We will focus on creating a long-term relationship with our customers. Both parties have to adapt their production pathway to each other. Therefore, we expect that there will be a mutual dependency for a long period. If we become a licensor this will also result in a long term relationship. After all, the external party will have to build their own production facilities and they will have to produce the MLAs for a long period in order to get return on their investment.

    Eventually we want to be known by our customers as a longtime partner that delivers high quality products. Since our company is a business to business company, we probably will have a limited number of customers and therefore personal attention will be a key factor to our company.


    Our company will be a typical business to business company and there will only be business to business sales (B2B sales). It is expected that there is no interference of an external party such as a retailer. However, when our product will be sold to foreign companies, especially when those companies are located in a country far away from us, it is possible that we need a partnership with an intermediate party to make the distribution logistically possible and efficient.

    Customer Segments

    We expect that the main customers are solar panel manufactures. Their main goal is to produce efficient and affordable solar panels. However, in practice the efficiency of solar panels is still relatively low. With our MLAs the efficiency of the solar panels will be increased, which make our product useful for them. There are several different types of relationships we can have with the customers. First of all, it is possible to have a buyer-supplier relationship. It is, for example, also possible to have a licensor/licensee relation. Then our company gives permission to an external party to manufacturer the MLAs by themselves. This could be a solar panel manufacturer, but also a manufacturer of traditional MLAs that is willing to change its production method to a more environmental friendly method.

    Cost Structure

    The most important expenses of our company are probably manufacturing costs. After all, the production of the MLAs will be a substantial part of the total costs. These expenses consist of among other things costs for raw materials, depreciation costs, etc. Furthermore, especially in the beginning, R&D costs will be relatively large. It is expected that the distribution costs also will be significantly since it is important to transport the MLAs carefully. Since the company is a Business to Business company, the costs of marketing are expected to be relatively small. When our company beside a manufacturer also becomes a licensor, the legal costs will be significant as well.

    Revenue Streams

    Our primary route to market could be direct selling. The direct sales business model means that we will directly sell our product to the manufacturers of solar panels. Another interesting business model is the subscription model that aims to secure the customer on a long term contract, so that they are using our product well into the future. This model is especially interesting when we have one or a very limited number of customers. It will guarantee revenues for a long period of time and at the same time it could guarantee them to have a unique selling point for a long period of time.

    When we become a licensor, we can have different types of leasing revenues as well. For example, it is possible to agree with the customer that they will pay a fixed amount of money per time period. It is also possible that they will pay a price per produced MLA or per sold solar panel.

    Finally, we could apply for grants. For example, many governments support environmentally friendly energy projects and also the TU Delft has multiple grants.

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    Solar panel manufacturers

    To develop a successful product, it is important to know what the needs of your customers are. Therefore, we have interviewed 4 solar panel manufacturers, respectively three German companies and one Dutch company. To do this, we have developed a standardized questionnaire, that you can find here.

    The main key points of the potential customer analysis are:

    • Micro lens arrays are new and revolutionary in the solar panel industry. Most manufacturers have never heard from them.
    • Final customers are probably not willing to pay a higher price for environmental produced solar panels.
    • The manufactures do not have the knowledge and the production facilities to produce the MLAs by themselves.
    • The efficiency is not determining for most solar panel manufactures. It is important that the return on investment and the eventual price are good.
    • The quality of the solar panels is very important. The encapsulation layers have to be strong and protect the cells from the environment.

    The complete report can be found here.

    Final users

    We believe that it is important to not only take into account what the needs of your direct customers are, but also what kind of needs the customers one chain further in the supply chain have. After all, they eventually will indirectly have an enormous influence on the requirements of our final product. Therefore, we have done a final customer analysis as well. Based on the analysis it appears the solar energy market is dynamic and a fast growing market. There is increasing demand for environmental friendly and renewable energy sources (Centraal bureau voor Statistiek, 2015). However, currently the total photovoltaic capacity is only sufficient to supply 1% of the world's total electricity consumption. It is expected that the total demand of solar panels will increase even further in coming years therefore (IEA, 2016).

    To analyze what the opinions and needs of the final consumers of solar panels are, we formulated, likewise for the producers, a standardized questionnaire that we have sent out to users and possible users. Both the opinions individuals and companies have been analyzed. The template questionnaire can be found here.

    We have interviewed over 50 possible final customers. Based on their opinions the needs of the final customers have been formulated.

    The main key points of the analysis are:

    • Final customers are not prepared to pay a higher price for solar cells because they are more environmentally friendly.
    • In most cases final customers do not in particularly think about the environmental aspects of the solar panels itself and the way they are produced..
    • If the price is comparable, most final customers would buy the most environmental friendly solar panels. However, they do not want to spent too much time figuring out what the most environmental friendly type is.

    The complete report of analysis with quantitative data can be found here.

    We, BioLens, are developing microlens arrays that can be used to increase the efficiency of solar panels. It appears that microlens arrays can be used to increase the efficiency of solar panels with 20% to 50%. However, they are not implemented in the solar panels industry, because currently it is too difficult and expensive to produce them in large numbers. Our biological microlens can be used as a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative for the chemically produced alternatives. In three steps we have written an extensive business plan, usable as blueprint for our future BioLens start-up company.

    In the first step, we have implemented the Business Model Canvas start-up template to develop the business model of BioLens. We have looked into among other things the key values of BioLens, what our most important partners will be and how we can sell our product. In the second step we have interviewed potential customers as well as the final users of the solar panels. We have asked both stakeholders what the requirements are that our microlens arrays have to meet. This analysis revealed that most potential customers would be interested if our microlens arrays result in a higher return on investment, are strong enough and are not more expensive than chemically-produced alternatives. We have used the obtained insights to write the final business plan.

    To obtain information about the intellectual property protection of our product, we have discussed the project with the Valorisation Centre of TU Delft and Delft Enterprises. We have concluded that the BioLens MLA is a novel and non-obvious product that is in our opinion fully patentable.

    The market for environmentally energy is expanding worldwide and based on the governmental aspersions the market size will increase to about 5 times its actual size in the coming years. In the introduction phase we will focus upon the Dutch and German market. We believe that there is a potential market of 187.5 MW in the first 4 years. This is equal to 1% of the estimated market growth of the German companies. Based on these data there is an estimated market of almost 150.000 m2 in the next 4 years.

    Taking into account the risks we obtained from our extensive risk analysis, we can conclude that based on a conservative estimate it appears that the costs are already covered at about 5000 m2. We are well aware of the many uncertainties in these calculations. However, since there is still a large margin between the breakeven point and the expected sales, we dare to say that the BioLens micro lens array will be profitable.

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    The context

    The global demand for energy is highly dependent on fossil fuels. Nowadays, gas, coal and oil provide 80% of the total demand (World Energy Council, 2013). Those gases are associated with the emission of among other things carbon dioxide, which make them extremely environmental unfriendly. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the main pollutant that is warming earth. In the past 150 years people have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years (IEA, 2016). This has resulted in a temperature increase of almost 1 degree. Another problem of fossil energy sources is the fact that they are limited. Fossil fuels are not inexhaustible and as a result of the growing demand for energy, it is expected that they eventually will be exhausted in the future. Most people agree that to curb global warming and to prevent shortage, a variety of measures needs to be taken. Probably the best response to the growing energy problem is to switch to renewable energy sources. Renewable energy is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Since in less than an hour, the theoretical potential of the sun represents more energy striking the earth’s surface than worldwide energy consumption in one year, this is considered to be the most promising renewable energy source (Crabtree, 2006). In this context, solar panels will be the first application for the BioLens microlens array (BioLens MLA).

    The problem

    The efficiency of solar panels is still very low nowadays and has to be increased to make them profitable. One promising finding is the use of microlens arrays (MLAs). It is already proven that the use of a MLA as an encapsulation layer for the solar panels results in 20% to 50% increase of the efficiency (Jutteau, et al., 2015; Nam, et al., 2013). However, the production of these MLAs is still relatively expensive and especially very environmental unfriendly (Nam et al., 2013). Therefore, economically it is not favorable to use MLAs at the moment and perhaps even more important for us, it does not fit the idea about environmental friendly solar panels. After all, the production is very environment unfriendly.

    The solution

    The biologically produced microlens is an extreme small lens that can be used to make environmentally-friendly and eventually cheaper microlens arrays. The use of these MLAs as encapsulation layer for the solar panels, will result in an increase of the efficiency of those solar panels. To achieve this, Escherichia coli cells (E. coli) will be covered with polysilicate, using the enzyme silicatein. By overexpressing either the transcriptional regulator bolA or the cell division inhibitor sulA, the cell morphology can be changed and the and the optical properties of the lens can be optimized. The biological MLA as encapsulation layer will result in more efficient and more environmental friendly solar panels.

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    BioLens is a high tech startup with well-educated people with different backgrounds. We will work with an interdisciplinary team that will form the board of directors. We believe that within the company equality is important and we aim to be an organization with a collaborative structure.

    A collaborative structure means that we aim to be a non-hierarchical organization. The organization will be fluid and flat, which gives every individual a great responsibility to make decisions on its own. We will set targets for individuals and teams and then provide the appropriate motivation and support to help them achieve those targets. Traditional management layers will disappear in this way.

    Eventually we believe that this type of structure results in a more open and trusted environment. Every individual should feel confident to share his opinion and to criticize the opinions of their colleagues and managers. An environment will be created where openness, sharing and discussion is central to everything that takes place.

    This will result in a company with employees that feel much more responsibility and loyalty. Every individual employer will feel taken seriously and therefore will feel a collective sense of ownership and involvement in the process of achieving the goals of the company.

    BioLens is a spinoff from the TU Delft. This has as one of the main advantages that they will help us to make our business a success. This could be help or advise, regarding project related aspects, financial aspects, etc. For example, they could help us developing the final prototype. Within the board of directors there is nobody with experience in the field of solar energy and we probably will need help to develop our final prototype. Research groups from the TU Delft could help us with this. Therefore, as can been seen in Figure 1, we consider the TU Delft as part of our organization as well.

    Figure 1: Organizational structure
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    Proof of concept

    To demonstrate that the BioLens concept works, a literature study is done.

    Figure 2 shows a schematic representation of the solar cell mounted with the MLA layer.

    Figure 2: Schematic representation of the solar cell mounted with the MLA layer (Nam et al., 2013)

    Based on the figure it appears that as a consequence of the differences in refractive index between the media and the lens, the light is concentrated on the focal plane. The MLA has multiple advantages in this way. First of all, it redirects the incident solar light toward interfinger regions and away from the mirror-like electrodes. Secondly, it redistributes the refractive light under the gridline areas. Furthermore, it provides a micro-concentration effect to facilitate photo-induced exciton generation and finally it protects the cell from harsh environmental conditions after being fully packaged (Nam et al., 2013).

    The efficiency of this setup have been tested and is compared to solar panels with a regular encapsulation layer. Based on published experimental results it appears that the power conversion efficiency (PCE) of the solar panels is almost 20% higher for the solar panels with MLA than for the solar panels without MLA encapsulation layer (Figure 3).

    Figure 3: Efficiency measurements of different solar cell setups. (Nam et al., 2013)

    Based on the published results it appears that the use of MLA as encapsulation layer is a successful way to improve the efficiency of solar panels. In this case so called GaAs-based solar cells are used.

    In a comparable research project, the researchers have proved that the efficiency of Cu(In,Ga)Se2 solar cells can be increased with 50%. In their research they have used microlens arrays with spherical lenses. However, they have mentioned that this is not necessarily the optimal lens-shape and also the optimal array shape could be different (Jutteau et al., 2015). Therefore, it is not surprising that research is done into the influence of the shape of the microlens arrays. Researchers have figured out that a curved microlens array can even improve the efficiency with more than 100% compared to ‘normal’ flat microlens arrays (Figure 4) (Xie et al., 2015).

    Figure 4: A curved microlens array (Xie et al., 2015)

    The biologically produced microlens will be much smaller than the microlenses used in the aforementioned research. This will benefit the efficiency. However, it is expected that the optical properties of the biological microlenses will be different compared to regular microlenses. As conservative estimate, we hypothesize that the increase in efficiency with the biologically produced microlens is 20%. This efficiency increase we consider, without taking unnecessary risks or too much optimism, at least viable.

    Intellectual Property

    To obtain information about the intellectual property protection of our product, we have discussed the project with the Valorisation Centre of TU Delft and Delft Enterprises. The Valorisation Centre is an organization that focusses on the commercialization of technical innovations from the university. Delft Enterprises facilitates and participates in spin offs of the TU Delft. For example, Delft Enterprises and the Valorisation Centre provide startup funding, explore other funding opportunities and can help with the patenting process and IP management.

    Existing patents

    Extensive research is done into related patents. There are multiple patents that describe a specific production process for a solar cell with a microlens array. Some examples can be found in Table 1.

    Table 1: Patents that describe a specific production process for solar cells with a microlens array
    Patent Difference to the BioLens MLA
    Publication Number: WO 2013129797 A1
    Description: Describes a specific solar cell system with a microlens array. The system is unique because of the use of a gap and grid system. The light converges because of the microlens after which the grid is used to diverge the light again.
    Our microlens array forms an encapsulation layer for the solar cell. The light will only be converted before it interacts with the solar cell. The convergence and divergence makes their system unique, but also different from our system.
    Publication Number: US 20130284257 A1
    Description: A dye-sensitized solar cell with internal microlens array includes an anodic electrode, a cathodic counter-electrode, and an electrolyte.
    Describes the formation of a specific solar cell and microlens array combination. The microlens array is placed insight the solar panel. The BioLens microlens array is an external microlens array that is used as encapsulation layer.
    Publication Number: US 20150228815 A1
    Description: Provides a specific solar cell apparatus with an upper surface with convex shaped discrete microlenses.
    The surface is covered with a plurality of convex-shaped microlenses. Our microlens arrays are concave formed.
    Publication Number: US 8759665 B2
    Description: Provides a specific solar cell apparatus with microlenses and a method of manufacturing this apparatus.
    While the concept of increasing the efficiency of the solar cell is the same, the production method is completely different. Furthermore, for our product a microlens array is used, instead of separate microlenses.

    There are also many microlens array production methods patented. However, these are all chemical production methods. There is no patent that describes environmentally friendly produced microlens arrays, produced by genetically modified E. coli. This makes the BioLens MLA a novel and non-obvious product that is in our opinion fully patentable.

    The patent application

    We have developed a unique method to produce microlenses or in particularly microlens arrays. There are several patenting strategies, possible patentable subject matter is further explained below:

    • The E. coli strain that is genetically engineered to produce membrane fused silicatein. This protein can be used to make polysilicate out of silicic acid.
    • The production method for the microlens with E. coli strain that is genetically engineered to produce membrane fused silicatein.
    • The production method for the specific microlens arrays with the help of the E. coli strain that is genetically engineered to produce membrane fused silicatein.

    The second option has our preference at the moment. Patenting of genetic strains appears to be difficult in practice. For example, modifications of the strain or the use of an insert from different organisms makes it sometimes already possible to get around the patent. Partly, this can be prevented by only patenting a part of the E. coli strain. For example only patent the round cells covered with polysilicate. This will make it more difficult to change it and get around the patent. However, the iGEM registry can also complicate the patenting process. This is an open source database with all the strains. When we patent our microlens, instead of solely the microlens array, we can protect our intellectual property more easily. The reason to patent the microlens instead of the microlens array is because this gives us the possibility to use the patent for the production of different applications in the future.

    We will patent our product with the help of the IP department of the Valorisation Centre.

    Patent ownership

    It is important to determine the ownership of intellectual property generated at the TU Delft. The product development is a result of the collaboration between a team of students and employers from the TU Delft. Intellectual property, generated by employees of TU Delft are generally property of TU Delft. The intellectual property generated by students can be, depending on the circumstances, owned by the students, the TU Delft or a combination of both. For example, when students are coached by TU Delft employees who contribute to the invention, they can be co-inventors and TU Delft can have a (partial) claim on the IP.

    To determine the contribution to the invention of the individual students and TU Delft employees, we have to determine what the individual share is of every stakeholder in the developing process. The Valorisation Centre can help in this process.

    As the worth of a patent can be diminished by having multiple owners a common solution is that the co-inventors that are not TU Delft employees transfer their rights resulting from their co-inventorship to TU Delft, who will become the sole owner of the patent. In return the startup company can agree on the conditions for an (exclusive) license and future transfer of the patent to the company. In these conditions the co-inventorship of the student team will be taken into account.

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    Market definition

    The biological microlens can be employed for a large number of applications. For example, single microlenses are often used to couple light to optical fibers, while microlens arrays can for example be used for CCD arrays and for digital projectors, where they focus light to specific areas of the LCD. With microlenses it is possible to make lightweight compact imaging devices. Therefore, they could also be used in for example mobile phones. Furthermore, microlenses can also be used as encapsulation layer for solar panels in order to increase the efficiency of these panels. We will firstly focus upon this last possible application. The business strategy is to introduce the biological MLAs in the solar energy market first.

    The final customers will be the end users of the solar panels. This can be both individuals and companies. In the Netherlands, 70% of the total solar panels are in possession of households, while 30% of the solar panels are used for commercial purposes. This results in almost 260.000 households that have solar panels. Together, all these solar panels have produced 1485 MW in 2015. This is less than 1% of the total power supply. The government aspires to increase this number to at least 5% in 2020. This means that the number of solar panels has to be increased enormously or the efficiency of the solar panels has to be improved (Wezel, 2015).

    Germany is the world's leader of photovoltaic capacity since 2005. With a total capacity of more than 35 GW, the photovoltaics contribute almost 6% to the national electricity demands. The government is planning to increase this percentage even more (Statistiek, 2015).

    Worldwide growth of the use of solar panels varies strongly by country. By the end of 2014, cumulative photovoltaic capacity increased by more than 40 GW and reached at least 178 GW. Currently, the total worldwide consumption of energy is equal to 18,400 TWh. This means that the total photovoltaic capacity is sufficient to supply 1% of the world's total electricity consumption (IEA, 2016).

    In conclusion, the solar energy market is a dynamic and growing market. There is an increasing demand for environmental friendly and renewable energy sources. It is expected that the total demand for solar panels will increase even further in coming years therefore.

    Unique selling point

    The unique selling point of the microlens array encapsulation layer is to offer the solar panel industry a whole new and unique method to increase the efficiency of their solar panels with at least 20%. The microlens array can be produced in an environmentally friendly way and is furthermore also expected to be cheaper than regular microlenses. Next, by using bacteria to produce microlenses, very small microlenses can be produced, which will make the arrays even more efficient.

    Competitors and Substitutes

    Currently the use of microlens arrays for solar panels is still in the research phase and in the solar panel industry, microlens arrays will be new and revolutionary. This means that there are no companies operating in this industry that already sell microlens arrays. However, there are still multiple possible competitors and substitutes. We distingue 3 different types of competitors, respectively the use of regular fossil fuels, solar panels with regular encapsulation layers and chemically produced microlens arrays. Alternative sustainable sources, for example wind energy and biofuels, are disregarded, because we believe that the degree of threat of these resources is limited for us.

    Regular fossil fuels

    Coal, oil and gas are examples of fossil fuels. These are currently the most used energy sources. For example, we use around 80.000 barrels of oil in the world per day (Index Mundi, 2015). As described, this is very environmentally unfriendly and furthermore fossil resources are not unlimited. Therefore, most people do agree that we have to take measures in order to promote renewable energy sources and to limit the use of fossil resources. However, the price of oil has almost halved in the last 5 years, which makes it a very cheap and therefore attractive energy source nowadays (Index Mundi, 2015).

    Solar panels with regular encapsulation layers

    To protect the photovoltaic cells of a solar panel, solar panels require an encapsulation layer. They are mostly made from glasslike materials and they generally decrease the efficiency of the solar panels. The price is currently lower than the price of the microlens arrays.

    Chemically produced microlens arrays

    While the other forms of potential compaction are all substitutes, chemically produced microlens arrays can be considered as a direct competitor. The chemically produced MLAs are very environmentally unfriendly and expensive. The price can rise to hundreds of euros per cm2. However, it is expected that the price will decrease when the production volumes increase. Another drawback of the chemically produced MLAs compared to the biologically produced MLAs, is the size of the microlenses. The biological microlenses, with a size of less than 1 µm, will probably be smaller than the chemically produced alternatives.


    We have compared the 4 alternatives in the field of price, efficiency, sustainability, the influence of the alternative on the environment and the acceptance among the public. The results can be found in Table 2.

    Table 2: Comparison between different potential competitors
    Regular fossil fuels Solar panels with regular encapsulation layers Chemically produced microlens arrays Biologically produced microlens arrays
    Price ++ + -- -
    Efficiency ++ -- + +
    Sustainability -- + + ++
    Environment -- + + ++
    Acceptance - ++ ++ +

    Pricing and Promotion


    The pricing of our microlens arrays will depend on the benefits, type of relation and the volumes. It is announced that the increased efficiency of the solar panels is the main benefit for the customer. Our goal is to get a strong buyer-supplier relationship with a limited number of customers or even one specific customer. We will use the pricing by customer benefit strategy to determine the selling price of the microlens arrays for every single customer.

    Figure 5: Advantages and disadvantages for potential customers

    As shown in Figure 5, the total benefits of the customer have to be larger than disadvantages. We will discuss with our potential customers in detail what the benefits for both parties could be. Our revenue model will be comparable to the brokerage fee model. We will ask our customers a fixed price in order to cover the costs, plus a variable price. This variable price will be depending on the benefits of our customers. We aim to get a variable price that is equal to 30%-50% of the extra profit our customers make with the microlens array.


    BioLens is the result of an iGEM project. One of the main advantages is the fact that the iGEM team gets a lot of media attention. The project acquires the interest of a whole variety of newspapers, magazines and television programs. This makes the public aware of our project. It is important that they know what the benefits of our project are. As can be seen in the customers analysis, most end users would be interested in more environmentally produced solar panels, but it appears that most of them did not think about this before they became aware of our project. It is crucial that also the public becomes aware of our project. When they are interested in more environmentally produced solar panels, indirectly this forces producers to produce them in a more environmentally way.

    Furthermore, it is important to promote our product to solar panel manufactures. We are a B2B company and direct promotion will be our main promotion activity. Just as we did for the customer analysis, we will talk to potential customers and show them our product. Eventually, the main goal of our promotion activities is off course to sell our product, but we also have a broader social purpose to make the people aware of the fact that production methods can have a significant influence on the environment.

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    Planning is a difficult but critical part of a successful business plan. To make a strategical efficient plan, we have divided the planning in multiple subcomponents.


    In the first year we will continue the development of our product. We have to develop the final microlens array and have to test the properties of it. We will among other things do more research into how we can optimize the MLAs. For example, we will analyze in more detail the influence of shape, size etc. After this, we will build our first prototype. To make this possible we will need experts with experience in the field of solar panels. There are multiple research groups within the university that possibly could be interested in a cooperation. We would also prefer to collaborate with an industrial partner. Then this partner would be our first tier and we could develop a strong relationship.

    Safety & Certification

    The microlens arrays will be produced with the help of genetically modified bacteria. When we want to introduce our product in applications outside the lab, it has to meet very strict and specific safety requirements. In the Netherlands, the RIVM assesses safety applications and it is important to contact them in an early stadium. If we collaborate with foreign industrial partners or if our product will eventually be used in foreign countries, it is important to meet the requirement of those countries as well.


    When the final prototype is built, we can start the construction of the manufacturing facilities. Prior thereto, we have to develop a manufacturing process. In this stadium we also will make, with reservation, agreements with suppliers of production equipment and suppliers of raw materials.

    Customers & Partners

    To make a company successful, it needs customers. We will start contacting potential customers and partners in an early phase. We strive for a first tier that is involved in the development phase.


    To build the final prototype, implement the product, etc. we have to acquire an estimated budget of €1.2 million. We are planning to acquire this budget with among other things grants from the government, the university, and with loans.

    Obtaining intellectual Property

    To protect the invention, it has to be patented. We have developed the product in collaboration with the TU Delft. Based on the requirements of the TU Delft, this automatically means that they will partly be the owner of the intellectual property.


    One of the critical points for the startup will be the construction of a working prototype. Furthermore, the acquisition of funding to construct among other things the manufacturing facilities are very important. Finally it is of the utmost importance that we will find our first customers, the so called first tier.

    Please find below the detailed Roadmap for the startup phase of our company. This phase consists of 4 years (Figure 6).

    Figure 6: Roadmap for the startup phase of BioLens.
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    Just as every research project, every company and especially every startup has certain risks that they will encounter. It is important to be aware of these risks and to think about what can happen, how likely is it that it will happen and if it does happen, what the consequences are. This will give you the possibility to take measures in order to take away the risk or the minimize the potential (negative) consequences on time. There are many different types of risks, with negative consequences or positive consequences. To become successful as a company it is important to minimize the risks with negative consequences and to maximize risks with positive consequences (opportunities). We have used the risk matrix tool to analysis our possible risks with a negative consequence (Figure 7).

    Figure 7: Risk matrix

    Legal risks

    The use of micro-organisms is associated with some specific legal risks. First of all, it is important that it is allowed to use our product outside the lab. Therefore, we have to meet several requirements and gain the necessary safety and technology approvals. These requirements can differ per country and there is a risk that we are unable to meet the requirements in one or more countries. This could in the best case delay the market introduction, but in the worst case it could also result in an impossibility to introduce our product into the market. The consequence will probably be major therefore. Fortunately, there are a lot of measures that could be taken in order to minimize the probability this risk occurs. For example, we have to contact the organization that judges applications about the use of our product outside the laboratory in an early stage of the research and development phase. Then we can, if required, still make relatively easy adaptations in our product. However, it is still possible that we want to introduce our product in a later stadium in a foreign market with different rules that makes it impossible to introduce our product into this specific market. Therefore, we consider this risk to be unlikely.

    When we are allowed to introduce our product into the market, there is a small change that it appears that our product causes harm to people and/or the environment. For example, any remaining part of the micro-organism in our product to which the environment is exposed, could in theory make people sick. The consequences of such events would probably be catastrophic for the company. However, since the organism we use are very weak variants of the E. coli bacterium, the likelihood that this will happen, is considered to be small.

    It is also possible that we are not able to patent our product. This automatically would mean that external parties are allowed to produce the biological MLA and this can worsen our competitiveness. We consider this as a possible risk with major consequences.

    Market related risks

    There is always a probability that our product will not be accepted by a part of our possible customers. However, since we have done an extensive customer research, we consider this risk to be small.

    An additional possible risk is that our product does make use of a genetically modified organism. The real risks of these organisms are considered to be small, but it is possible that the perception of the risk among the public is different. For example, negative media attention about the use of genetically modified organisms in our product could have a negative influence on the sales volume of our company. The consequences in that case are expected to be moderate. However, since our product is not a food and it is a part of a final larger product, it is considered to be unlikely that there will be negative attention. Furthermore, together with all the iGEM teams and many other companies and organizations we are working hard to improve the acceptation of synthetic biology among the public. This will help the acceptance of our product as well.

    The risk of a (new) substitute is also a serious risk. For example, the general chemically synthesized MLAs could become cheaper and more attractive therefore. It is also possible that a totally new alternative will be developed in the future. Therefore it is important to keep investing in R&D in order to keep our product “up-to-date”. We do expect that it is possible that there will be new competitive substitutes for our product, but because of all these measures we expect that the consequences will be moderate for a longer period of time.

    Finally, it is also possible that the total market changes. In an extreme situation this could for example result in no need of encapsulation layers any more or an extreme increase of efficiency of solar cells, which make our specific MLA encapsulation layer useless. This could be catastrophic for our company. Fortunately, we expect a radical change like this will be unlikely.

    Product and operational related risks

    There is a risk that we may not actually be able to deliver the product to the market within the resources (time, money) that we have available. Furthermore, there is always the risk that our product may not work exactly as well as promised or envisioned. It is for example possible that some technical challenges may be greater than initially assumed. We try to minimize the consequences of these risks by doing solid theoretical research and by building prototypes in an early stage. This will limit eventually the extra time that is required.

    Unforeseen scale-up problems are also a risk that we have to take into account. For example, it appears that bacteria sometimes react differently in a large reactor than in a small variant. When such an incident happens, this can have a major influence on the total investment. Therefore, it is important to minimize the probability of occurrence. We will talk with experts in this field in an early stadium of the development. Furthermore, we believe that making prototypes is very important to minimize this risk. Finally, we think it is wisely to use mathematical models and literature for this. This all should make it unlikely to have scale-up problems.

    It is also possible that there are no qualified employees available. However, we think it is very unlikely this is the case and otherwise we think it is relatively easy to educate the new employees. After all, we have a new product, but we are operating in already existing industries with well-educated employees.

    For some companies supply problems of raw material can be a major problem. We expect that this is not the case for our company, because we do not use very limited available and very specific materials. Therefore, we are not dependent on one specific supplier. It is likely that sometimes suppliers are not able to supply on time because of supply problems or because they are bankrupt, but the consequences are considered to be insignificant because there are always alternative suppliers.

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    Market size

    First we will focus on the Dutch and German market. The total market size of both markets is equal to 36.5 GW. Based on the governmental goals, the market size has to grow to 74 GW in the year 2020. This means that the growth potential is equal to 37,5 GW. Currently there are 81 solar panel manufactures in Germany, which have in total around 50% of the market share of both countries ("Solar Panel Manufacturers," 2016; Wirth, 2016).

    Based on these data, we have estimated the potential market size. We believe that there is a potential market of 187,5 MW in the first 4 years. This is equal to 1% of the estimated market growth of the German companies.

    Development prototype

    The BioLens will be further designed and tested during the first half of 2017. The cost breakdown of this phase is shown in Table 3.

    Table 3: Cost breakdown of the prototype
    Labor cost (5 fte.) €75.000
    Consulting (0.25 fte.) €5.000
    Material costs laboratory (chemicals, consumables, etc.) €5.000
    Costs Solar panel €500
    Rent (laboratory) €6.800
    Total €92.300

    The prototype will be developed in collaboration with the TU Delft and they will be co-owner of the IP therefore. BioLens will have the exclusive right to use the developed prototype. To develop our prototype, we will use a laboratory from the TU Delft. We are looking at multiple grants and subsidies to (co-)finance the early stage research and development. Furthermore, we plan to apply for the so called UNIIQ funding. This is a Proof of Concept fund for early stage start-ups that need funding to develop their invention to market readiness.


    We have made an estimation about the expenses of the first four years of the company. The breakdown of those expected expenses can be found in Table 4.

    Table 4: Cost breakdown first four years
    2017 2018 2019 2020
    Labor costs
    Management €150,000 €160,000 €165,000 €168,000
    Consulting €10,000 €15,000 €5,000 €1,000
    Manufacturing staff €0 €0 €60,000 €62,000
    Supporting staff €0 €15,000 €20,000 €20,000
    Legal costs
    Business establishment €900 €0 €0 €0
    Intellectual property €10,000 €10,000 €100,000 €5,000
    Regulatory approval €2,000 €4,000 €0 €0
    Manufactoring costs
    Chemicals + Consumables €5,000 €5,000 €6,000 €6,000
    Rent €3,400 €6,800 €6,800 €6,800
    Distribution €0 €0 €3,000 €3,000
    General costs
    Marketing/Sales €1,000 €2,000 €1,500 €1,500
    Interest €40,000 €40,000 €40,000 €40,000
    Overhead + Unforeseen €22,570 €25,780 €33,230 €31,330
    Total €248,270 €283,580 €365,530 €344,630

    The costs are based on the following assumptions:

    • Labor costs are based upon the conventional labor costs for the concerned groups, taking into account the number of fte’s. The salaries of the management are deliberately low in order to increase the growth potential of the company. The whole team agreed with this. Most of the consulting and supporting will be done by employees from the TU Delft. For example, within the TU Delft there are multiple experts in the field of solar panels that could help us to develop the prototype.
    • The costs for the business establishment are based on information provided by Delft Enterprises.
    • Costs for intellectual property are based on information provided by the Valorisation Centre. They can eventually also help us with the patenting process.
    • The costs for regulatory approval are an educated guess and are based on among other things the expected required time of external parties, traveling costs, etc.
    • The expenses for the consumables and chemicals are based on the real expenses during the iGEM project.
    • The rent concerns costs for a laboratory and production facilities of the TU Delft. The TU Delft can provide those facilities as in kind contribution in return for a larger share in the company.
    • Distribution costs are estimated based on maximal expected distribution distances.
    • Marketing/Sales costs are based on the opinion and expectations of an expert in this field.
    • The interest costs are based on the expected loan.
    • The overhead and unforeseen costs are equal to 10% of the total costs. This is common practice. Among these costs are administrative costs, telephone costs, but it is also a buffer for costs that in reality are larger than estimated.

    Based on Table 4 it appears that the expected required budget for the first 4 years of the startup is equal to about €1.200.000. In the first phase we want to apply on grants and government loans such as STW: Take off 1 for feasibility studies (€40k subsidy) and Take off 2 for early stage financing (up to €250k loan). There are multiple funds that provide loans for promising startups. For example, funds such as UNIIQ, a proof of concept fund that can offer up to €300k in convertible debt financing, and which is partially set up by TU Delft, Erasmus Medical Centre, the University of Leiden and the regional development agency. With these we hope to obtain a capital of €500.000 with an average interest rate of 8%. Furthermore, we hope to receive in total €150.000 of grants from for example the governmental “Demonstratie energie-innovatie” fund that gives grands to companies that do research into green energy innovation. Finally, we are searching investors that are prepared to invest for a total of €550.000 in our company. The TU Delft will be an investor and could also be a contribute in kind. Furthermore, also Shift Invest is a potential investor. We estimate that with these funds we can come to a stage where regular commercial financing becomes a possibility, or that we reach a point where a large solar panel manufacturer is willing to take over our business.


    Based on the market size analysis, the potential market size is estimated to be equal to 187,5 MW. Currently the average power of a solar panel is equal to 0,0000137 MW/m2. Based on these data there is an estimated market of almost 1.500.000 m2 in the next 4 years. As described in the customer analysis, the total added valued of the microlens arrays is equal to at least 897 euro/m2. We estimate to sell the microlens arrays for 30% of this profit. This means that the selling price is equal to €270.

    Figure 8: Profitability of BioLens

    Based on this conservative estimate it appears that the costs are already covered at a much lower sales volume than the estimated potential market in the first four years. We are well aware of the many uncertainties in these calculations. However, since there is still a large margin between the breakeven point and the expected sales, we dare to say that the BioLens microlens array is profitable.

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    iGEM Analysis


    We believe that iGEM has proven its added value to the synthetic biology world. However, we also think that there are always ways to optimize the potential of iGEM even more. Therefore, we have written an analysis about iGEM with many recommendations about, for example, new medal requirements and possibilities to increase the scientific impact of iGEM further.

    Below you can find an example of, in our opinion, the most important or interesting recommendation or finding of every section:

    • Competition: Currently, modeling is not a required part of the competition; therefore many teams do nothing with it. Probably, this is partly because many teams have no members with experience in modeling. These teams would be extremely disadvantaged if modeling becomes a hard requirement. Therefore, we propose to add an extra possible requirement about modeling that teams can meet to win a gold medal. Teams will get an extra motivation to do something with modeling in this way, whithout making it an hard requirement.
    • Technology & Entrepreneurship: Only 35% of the iGEM project is used for further research and less than 4% is used for a business application. We would advise to make it obligatory for iGEM teams that want to win a gold medal, to write a project summary in a specific format that can be bundled after the jamboree. This would give external parties an easy way to see what the results are from the ‘best’ iGEM projects.
    • Community, Sharing & Responsibility: To increase the collaborations within iGEM, with other scientists and other stakeholders, sharing knowledge is of great importance. Scientists in general should bear in mind that they have some sort of responsibility in sharing knowledge. We have made a timeline with recommendations for collaborations and interactions, for example encouraging teams to meet up with each other and switching to Slack instead of the forum. Besides that we have noticed that the presentation of different iGEM stories is quite different, so to increase uniformity and the understandability on where to find information, we have proposed a way of presenting an iGEM story.
    • Education & Teamwork: Based on the survey we can conclude that there are many teams that are engaged in educational activities. Some of those teams have developed very interesting tools, that could also be very useful for other iGEM teams. We advise to make those tools more accessible. For example, iGEM could make a page with tools about education, the so called toolbox page. We have made an example of such a page that iGEM can use as a start.
    • Safety & Security: In our opinion, the risk analyses about synthetic biology projects have to be done in a more systematic way. Therefore, we have developed a hands-on safety application that can be used by iGEM teams to analyze the safety issues of their project.

    The complete report can be found here.


    “Synthetic biology or biotechnology in general is the world wide web of the last century. I believe it going to change the world.” This was claimed by Randy Rettberg, founder of the iGEM competition during The European Experience 2016 iGEM meeting. The world wide web changed the society into something unrecognizable and unlikely to humans living at the beginning of the last century and according to him, synthetic biology will change the world in the same extent. This is why he in the first place founded iGEM. “Universities need to get behind the projects and give their students the opportunity to be part of something revolutionary”. He thinks that students who participate in iGEM will be a part of a process that will revolutionary change the way we for example create chemicals, feed the world and cure diseases. He hopes that iGEM will contribute positively to this process (Reichman, 2013).

    iGEM officially began in 2003 as a study course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In this course students where challenged to develop biological devices to make cells blink. In the year 2004, instead of the normal course, a competition with five teams from various universities form the United States was held. A year later also teams from outside the United States took part in the competition (Community, 2015). Years prior to 2006 had no specific winners and therefore it may can be said that the competition, as we know it today, began life in 2006. This means that the competition in its current format could have celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. Therefore, it is a good moment to draw up the balance and to analyze what the influence and impact of iGEM was over the past 10 years.

    In this study we will analyze iGEM. The 9 facets of iGEM are used to do this. These facets are respectively technology, teamwork, entrepreneurship, sharing, education, safety and security, responsibility and community. With this report we think that iGEM can be improved even future. We believe that iGEM has already proven its volubility for the world. However we also think that there are always possibilities to improve even future and with this setting we have written this report.

    To collect data about iGEM, we have developed a questionnaire and we have send it to all the participating iGEM teams. There were over 50 teams that eventually helped us with our analysis by filling in the questionnaire.

    In this chapter, the competition itself is analyzed. Firstly, quantitative and qualitative data is collected about the competition. After this we have analyzed the competition and have especially focused on potential inequality within the iGEM competition.

    Based on the quantitative and qualitative data analysis, we have concluded that the medal requirements are mainly focusing on science and policy & practice. This is understandable, since the iGEM competition is all about the use of synthetic biology in a socially responsible way. However, we think that mathematical models provide a great way to describe the functioning and operation of BioBrick Parts and Devices and that modeling becomes a more and more important aspect of synthetic biology in the future. Therefore, we advise the iGEM headquarters to include modeling in the medal requirements as well. To make sure that iGEM teams with no experience in modeling are not extremely disadvantaged, we propose to add an extra possible requirement that teams can meet to win a gold medal. In that way it is still not required for every team to do something with modeling, but teams will get an extra motivation to do something with modeling.

    “Construct a mathematical model to aid in the design, understanding, and/or implementation of your project. Validate your model with measurements.”

    Another point of interest, is the fact that currently 90% of the teams are able to win at least a bronze medal. This raised the question whether the medal requirements are too soft. To analyze this proposition, we have asked the opinion of the headquarters and discussed it extensively within our team and with our advisers. Based on the analysis we believe that it is not a good option to drastically change the medal requirements in order to decrease the number of teams that win a medal. The headquarters clearly stated that the goal of the medals is to make sure that iGEM teams focuses on the aspects they believe to be important. They would like to give every team a gold medal if all teams meet the requirements. Furthermore we have noticed that a gold medal can result in a boost in fundraising. Teams that win a gold medal could probably raise funding more easily. Therefore this is also an important reason we think the medal requirements should not be too hard. However, we do believe that it is important to update the requirements every year. Among other things, new technology developments will make it more easy to meet certain requirements. Therefore, just as in the past few years, the requirements have to be adapted every year and if required they have to be tightened.

    Finally, we have looked into potential inequalities within the competition and we have eventually focused on three potential inequalities: Budget, Laws & Regulation and Travel costs. Based on the survey, it appears that there are large differences in budgets between teams (Figure 1)

    Figure 1: Budget distribution of the iGEM teams. Data based on the teams that fill out the survey.

    We have extensively researched the possibilities to decrease the differences in budgets and decrease the inequality within the competition therefore. However, we have concluded that none of those options would positively contribute to the competition. Most of the options appeared to be uncontrollable or could negatively influence the project results. In our opinion the research project is the most important aspect of the competition. Teams should not be limited in, for example, their budget therefore. Instead of limiting ‘wealthy’ teams, the competition could better promote ‘less wealthy’ teams. We have discussed multiple ways to do this in the report.

    Differences in Laws & Regulations between different countries can also result in inequalities. Based on the survey it appears that several teams had legal issues. About 30% of the teams does encounter problems. Based on the survey it appears that most of these teams had problems with the fact that the regulation was not sufficient enough. In many countries the regulations about biotechnology and synthetic biology is not up to date or even almost absent. Therefore, there are many teams that operated in a grey area. Fortunately, there were teams that started a collaboration with the government to solve the problems, which is in our opinion a great example of the potential of iGEM.

    Finally there are large differences in the travel costs between the teams, which also results in an inequality within the competition. Teams from for example Boston, New York or Philadelphia can travel for 50 to 100 euro per person while teams from Australia probably need 1000-1500 euro per person for traveling. Figure 2 illustrates the differences between different countries in traveling costs.

    Figure 2: Traveling costs
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    In this chapter of the report we have analyzed what happened with the iGEM project after the Jamboree. We have asked the iGEM teams multiple questions about this in our survey. Figure 1 summarizes the results.

    Figure 1: Summarization of what happened with the iGEM project after the Jamboree. Data is based on our survey.

    We have analyzed how the iGEM results can become more publicly available. Currently, interested people have to visit the wiki of a team to find any information. The formats of the wikis are all different and there is no overview where all the (interesting) projects can be found. Therefore, we think that iGEM should find a way to make the results and projects more easily accessible. One of the possibilities to do so, is to start an own journal. To make this possible, writing a publishable article could become a possible gold medal requirement teams can meet. Teams that meet the requirements and receive a gold medal will then be published in the iGEM journal. This would give external parties an easy way to see what the results are froms the ‘best’ iGEM projects.

    Another option could be to make it obligatory for teams to write an abstract about their project. Those abstracts can then be bundled and published as well. To make this bundle with abstracts uncluttered, we advise to use a standard format for those abstracts. The use of standard formats will be discussed in more detail in the paragraph Sharing & Community.

    The complete chapter can be found here.

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    iGEM is a multifaceted competition in which students are encouraged to rise above themselves and thereby develop numerous new skills. The many different facets of the competition ensure both the toughness of the program as well as simultaneously developing a new generation of all-round engineers. Hereby establishing a strong, renowned science community.

    One of the things this new generation of scientists could really benefit from, is being an active part of a widely recognized community within the scientific world. The community enlarges personal networks and could also help new scientists in their future career. iGEM has grown for the past decade to a total of 16,000 members. To increase both numbers and individual activity of these members, we have proposed some strategies.

    To strengthen the community even more and to ensure its continuity, new members need to be attracted. Here our main focus was on attracting new iGEM participants and keep them connected in the iGEM community after competing. Interactions between old and new participants and the mutual positive feeling established by these interactions ties them proverbally to the community.

    Creating a coherent community “family” feeling is of great importance of the community’s success. To develop this, as well as enlarging trust in external parties, we focused on knowledge sharing as the main value for this community. Even though some of the necessary motivation will be internal, iGEM headquarters could establish some effective motivation by enabling and encouraging some activities. For example, the iGEM headquarters can start making a difference in the perception of external parties by recommending participating teams to write their experience in a certain format. We think the proposed format will make science communication – and here in specific science performed by the iGEM community – more open. Thereby potentially also enlarging its trustworthiness in the scientific world.

    Besides that, we have proposed different strategies to enlarge and improve both internal and external communications, to increase the community family feeling and the familiarity of iGEM in external parties simultaneously.

    The complete chapter can be found here.

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    In this chapter, we have focused on education. We have analysed what teams did to educate the public, but also what the influence was of external parties on iGEM projects.

    Firstly we have asked teams whether they have developed an education tool and if so, whether the teams did evaluate their tool. It appeared that about half of the teams developed a tool and 60% of those teams did evaluate it afterwards. The teams that were able to test their tool, mostly used their tool in a real live setting. For example, they used the tool to educate school children, in outreach events or the tool is reviewed by experts.

    Most of the educational activities were targeting high school students, almost 56% of the responders were engaged in educational activities for high school students. With respectively 48% and 40%, the university students and adults were also popular target groups. Only 23% of the responders educated elementary school children and 10% of the responders reached a target audience outside one of these groups.

    Based on the survey we can conclude that there are many teams that are engaged in educational activities. Some of those team have developed very interesting tools, that could also be very useful for other iGEM teams. We advise iGEM headquarters to make a page with interesting tools in order to make those tools more accessible.

    We have also analysed what the influence was of collaborations between iGEM teams and external parties. Based on the survey it appears that about 40% of the teams stated in the survey that they collaborated with external parties. Multiple of those teams have worked with other iGEM teams, experts in a research field or public organizations to improve either their own project or to help or educate other parties. For example, 30% of the teams interacted with policy makers. They had conversations, debates and/or gave advise to policy makers. One of the responders indicated that the government currently even is changing the law because of the iGEM team. Eventually, multiple teams indicated they would not have been able to get certain results or do specific activities without the help of those external parties.

    Finally, we have asked the responders on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all and 5 is really large, how valuable participation in the iGEM competition was for them (Figure 1). For most of the students that filled out the survey, the iGEM project helped them to become better researchers and to develop skills outside the lab such as the communication with external parties and fundraising. Furthermore, multiple students experienced working that in a team with students from different backgrounds was very educational. They have noticed that the methods and ways of thinking can be very different. Sometimes this can result in frictions, but in most cases it helps to improve you project. Therefore, we believe that it is wise for supervisors to make a team of students from different background. We have experienced ourselves that this actually contributes to the results of your project. In conclusion, it appears that beside the scientific importance, iGEM contributes also the development of students and advisers.

    Figure 1: Answer distribution to the question: On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not at all and 5 is really large, how valuable was your participation in the iGEM competition for yourself?

    The analysis has shown that iGEM can significantly contribute to the general education about synthetic biology. It also has shown the potential benefits of collaborations. However, it appeared that most of the teams did not collaborate with external parties. We think this is regrettable. Fortunately, iGEM headquarters agreed with us on this point and collaboration between teams has become a hard requirement to win a silver medal since this year therefore. Finally, it shows that we can conclude that beside the scientific importance, iGEM contributes also to the development of students and advisers.

    The complete chapter can be found here.

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    In this chapter we have analysed the role of iGEM in the development and debate about the safety and security of synthetic biology. One of the problems about safety analysis of synthetic biology projects, is the fact that, in contrast to for example the chemical industry, there is too limited statistical data available. We think that iGEM should take the lead in the data collection about synthetic biology. There are multiple ways to do so. First of all, in our opinion it would be wise to consider the introduction of a specific track about biosafety. In that case, teams participating in this track work to create more general knowledge about the safety of synthetic biology. For example, they could do research into biosafety issues of specific constructs or into the real impact of horizontal gene transfer. Another, in our opinion, interesting possibility, could be to start a project, like interlab, about biosafety. In this way, iGEM could start a large-scale and multi-annual project to collect the required data about biosafety and could play a key role in the development of synthetic biology.

    We have also researched how safety is respected in other areas and fields. It appears that in many areas the analysis of possible safety issues is done in a more systematic way. Therefore, we think it is important introduce more systematics in the analysis of risks of synthetic biology as well. Risk matrices can help with this. They are probably one of the most widespread tools for risk evaluation. A risk matrix has two dimensions, respectively probability of occurrence/likelihood and impact. It looks at how large the impact is of a specific event and how likely it is that it will happen. These two dimensions create a matrix. The combination of probability and impact will give any event a place on a risk matrix.

    The risk matrix is used as basic of our own risk analysis tool. We have developed a hands-on safety application that can be used by iGEM teams to analyze the safety issues of their project. In this application aspects such as the used chemicals, types of used micro-organism, etc. will be taken into account. The teams can use the tool to get in a more systematic and a visible insight into the risk issues of their project.

    The complete chapter can be found here.

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    iGEM Toolbox


    We have have done an extensive analysis into iGEM in order to improve the potential of iGEM even further. As part of this analysis, we have asked iGEM teams to fill out a survey about multiple aspects of iGEM, such as science and education. Based on the results of the survey we have among other things noticed that multiple iGEM teams have developed interesting and educative tools. We think that some of the tools would be very useful for other iGEM teams as well. However, currently it is difficult to find a specific tool.

    We would like to advise iGEM headquarters to develop an iGEM Toolbox page. Teams that think that they have developed an interesting tool, could register their tool on this page. Other teams can use these tools and it would be especially interesting if iGEM teams could also evaluate the tools afterwards. In this way the iGEM community could for example develop an extensive curriculum, with extensively tested tools, to teach the public about synthetic biology.

    We have made an example Toolbox page that can be used as starting point to develop the iGEM Toolbox page. On the page you can find a few very interesting education tools, tools that are useful in the lab and policy & practice tools.

    Card game - KU Leuven

    The KU Leuven iGEM team of 2015 developed a card game about synthetic biology. The goal of this game was to teach children about DNA translation and mutations in a playful way.

    Minecraft - Valencia UPV


    The idea of Minecraft is simple. You can create your own constructions by moving blocks from one site to another in a 3D virtual world. The team used the concept of Minecraft and implemented Biology inside the game.

    BactMan - IONIS Paris

    The mobile application designed by the IONIS iGEM can be used to communicate and popularize Synthetic Biology. The applications is available on all Android mobile phones.

    Lego Recepto - TU Delft

    Lego Receptor Game explains how receptors can ben activated by a specific molecule.

    Ligation Tool - TU Delft

    A very useful tool is developed to calculate the optimal compound distribution to successfully ligate. Click on the 'Ligation protocol'.

    Master Control - Aachen


    Every bioreactor comes with control software. However it is difficult to interface with something that is completely DIY. To test and run a bioreactor, they have developed suite of calibration and control software.

    MicroServer - Cambridge JIC

    A tool to turn your Raspberry Pi into a web-accessible microscope. Look and control your microscope from your computer, phone, table or with a monitor connected to the Pi itself.

    Fluor Smartphone - Bielefeld

    They have developed an app that enables the detection of a fluorescence signal with your smartphone in combination with our specially designed black case.

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    P&P Tool - TU Delft

    This tool can be used for testing both the team management and the direct application of your project. The team management section is about the internal relations and collaboration within the team. The application section describes how the general public relates to your project.

    Business plan - TU Delft


    This tool can be used as guideline for writing a successful business plan. The tool helps you to every step of the business plan and in this way you will be able to analyse the market potential of your project or product

    Risk Assessment Tool - TU Delft

    This tool can be used to analyse the risks of your project in a systematic way. It will help you to get a visual insight into the potential risks of your project.

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    On 8th October we were invited on the family festival of our faculty, where all faculty members could bring their family and show their daily workplace. Together with the visitors, we looked into a Lego microscope and did a little pipetting workshop, while we explained them about iGEM and our project.


    The first weekend of October was the Dutch weekend of Science (Weekend van de Wetenschap). During this weekend, all scientific institutions and museums open for the public with special science programs and workshop. The goal of the weekend is to involve everyone in science and show how interesting and fun science is! Of course, as an iGEM-team we could not miss out on this fun event. Together with the Science Center in Delft, we organized a workshop where people from all ages could feel like a real scientist for a day! We opened a special lab for the occasion where we taught people, both young and old, about DNA. The participants then could put on a labcoat and become a scientist themselves! We set up an experiment where people could isolate and visualize DNA from a kiwi. Luckily, a lot of visitors seemed to have talent for science and a lot of kiwi-DNA was successfully isolated. A lot of people were really surprised by the outcome, none of them had ever seen DNA before! It was very busy, so we are happy to have inspired so many children and parents about the world of synthetic biology and were happy to see so many happy faces!


    On 1 – 3 June, the whole campus of the TU Delft was dedicated to bridging the gap between technology, art and music during the International Festival of Technology. The programme consisted of some famous music artists, lectures by scientists and showcasing all art and technology projects of the university and its students. Of course, we as an iGEM team also took part in this amazing event. Since we were working with fluorescence, our project was incorporated in a night tour through the university. The tour went past all hidden treasures of the university, such as the anechoic chamber, and the iGEM lab which were specially illuminated for the occasion. Other students made use of lights and beamers, we used fluorescence, of course!

    The tour was completely sold out so there were a lot of people to amaze and educate with our project! The public got to take a look in the world of fluorescence and learned some fun facts on DNA while we could promote our project. There was also an fluffy E. coli giveaway for the person who could most precisely estimate how often you can go to the moon and back with all DNA of one adult. A lot of people were not aware of the (laser)capacities of microorganisms, but the reaction of the crowd was very positive and enthusiastic, which is of course very good to hear! We are happy that we got to inspire and amaze so many people in just one night, and we hope that our Opticoli will continue to do so!


    The Campus Party is the greatest technological experience of the world which brings together young technologist and aspiring entrepreneurs in a festival of innovation, creativity, science, digital entertainment and entrepreneurship. It was held in Utrecht and this year we were invited as team.

    During the day we enjoined multiple talks and workshops about among other things virtual reality and entrepreneurship. We have learned many interesting things we can use for our project and we had interesting conversations with many technologists about our project. In the evening we have presented our own project. Watch the entire presentation on our YouTube channel. Most of the attendees had no biological background and therefore we started with a basic lecture about synthetic biology. During the presentation we asked them multiple question about their opinion about synthetic biology and it appeared that more than 90% of the attendees have a positive outlook towards synthetic biology. After this we off course discussed our project and fortunately most people were very enthusiastic. We are happy that also people from outside our research field are enthusiastic about our project and about synthetic biology in general.


    The largest Dutch national conference where scientists, journalists and other science communicators could meet up was this year once again held in Amsterdam. As small-scale scientists, participants of iGEM, and of course as scientists of the future, we participated in the Bessensap conference.

    Starting by pitching our project to the audience, we gained positive feedback from interested parties. The day was filled with inspiring talks and workshops. For example the keynote speaker talked about activism in science, arguing all scientists should be activists and changing the future for the better. For this, examples were given showing the importance of communication of different perceptions. This also holds for the iGEM competition, where this immediately could be used in our Policy and Practice. Concluding this inspiring day, a final collaboration in public relations was initiated.


    The Netherlands Biotechnology Conference (NBC) is the largest conference for researchers and companies related to biotechnology. This year’s edition with the theme “next level biotechnology” was held in Wageningen. Other than inspiring talks and discussions, we got to meet up with other iGEM teams from the Netherlands. It was interesting to see what the other teams picked as a topic and how they enjoyed the first period of iGEM so far. Overall, it was an informative day and we are looking forward to see the other teams again!

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