Tracks/Foundational Advance

Synthetic Biology has the potential to achieve great things in the 21st century, which has already been described as the century of biology. While DNA sequencing and synthesis are advancing in capacity at a rate about five times faster than Moore's law, they are not the only technologies necessary to bring about this revolution. Reading and writing DNA will become ever more crucial tools as the field of synthetic biology advances but knowing how to program using DNA will be the key to the field.

iGEM relies on a number of foundational technologies to function. We use BioBricks, standardization (RFCs), high-throughput quality control and many other processes to run the competition. We are continually expanding our capacities and a number of the projects listed below are examples of teams who have contributed parts, kits or work that advances iGEM. Unlike most other tracks, teams are not competing to solve a practical problem. The Foundational Advance track allows teams to come up with novel solution to technical problems surrounding core synbio technologies.

You will find images and abstracts of the winning Foundational Advance teams from 2013 to 2015 in the page below. Also, follow the links below to see projects from all the Foundational Advance track teams.

Recent Foundational Advance projects to win best in track

Winning Foundational Advance projects in 2013 Undergrad: The Philosophers Stone


Project abstract: Several secondary metabolites, such as commonly used antibiotics, pigments and detoxifying enzymes, are synthesized by non-ribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs). These enzymes beautifully reflect one of the fundamental principles of synthetic biology, as they are remarkably modular. We will assemble new NRPSs by combining individual domains and modules of different origin, thus setting the basis for novel and customized synthesis of non-ribosomal peptides. To make the use of NRPSs amenable to a wider community, we will devise a new software-tool, called “NRPS Designer”, which predicts the optimal modular composition of synthetic NRPSs for production of any desired peptide and outputs a cloning strategy based on Gibson assembly. As an application relevant to society, we will engineer Escherichia coli to recycle gold from electronic waste in a cost- and energy-efficient way through the heterologous expression of the NRPS pathway of Delftia acidovorans that naturally enables precipitation of gold ions from solution.

Winning Foundational Advance projects in 2013 Overgrad: The UniCAS toolkit for gene regulation


Project abstract Our Team developed a universal toolkit, termed uniCAS, that enables customizable gene regulation in mammalian cells. Therefore, we engineered the recently discovered and highly promising CRISPR/Cas9 system. The regulation is based on the RNA-guided Cas9 protein, which allows targeting of specific DNA sequences. Our toolkit comprises not only a standardized Cas9 protein, but also different effector domains for efficient gene activation or repression. We further engineered a modular RNA plasmid for easy implementation of RNA guide sequences. As an additional feature, we established an innovative screening method for assessing the functionality of our uniCAS fusion proteins. Single genes and even whole genetic networks can be modified using our uniCAS toolkit. We think that our toolbox of standardized parts of the CRISPR/Cas9 system offers broad application in research fields such as tissue engineering, stem cell reprogramming and fundamental research.

Winning Foundational Advance project in 2012: Real-time quantitative measurement of RNA and protein levels using fluorogen-activated biosensors

Carnegie Mellon

Project abstract : The design and implementation of synthetic biological systems often require quantitative information on both transcription and translation rates. However, quantitative information about the expression strength of a synthetic promoter has been difficult to obtain due to the lack of noninvasive and real-time approaches to measure the levels of both RNA and protein in cells. Here, we engineer a fluorogen-activated bio-sensor that can provide information on both transcription strength and translation efficiency. This biosensor is noninvasive, easily applied to a variety of promoters, and more efficient than existing technologies. To demonstrate the utility of our biosensor, we constructed and characterized several designed T7Lac hybrid promoters. Furthermore, we developed a mathematical model of our synthetic system to guide experiments and an open-source electronic kit that mimics experimental setup and well suited for education purposes. Our results could have a broad impact on the measurement and standardization of synthetic biological parts.

Winning Foundational Advance project 2011: The Generation and Characterization of Mutant Libraries for BioBrick Circuit Synthesis

UC Davis

Project abstract: The Registry of Standard Biological Parts offers inducible BioBrick promoters and their corresponding repressors in a limited range of strengths and activities. To broaden the application of this key part type, we have produced and characterized libraries for the LacI, TetR repressible and lambda c1 regulated promoters, as well as the LacI, TetR and cI repressors, some of the most commonly used repressor and promoter parts. These new libraries can be used to engineer genetic circuits requiring inducible parts with varying activity levels and chemical sensitivities. To demonstrate their utility, we used our new parts to construct diverse circuits that capitalize on differences in their activity levels.