Precise measurements lie at the foundation of every scientific discipline, including synthetic biology. The limits of our knowledge are set by how well we can connect observations to reproducible quantities that give insight. Measurement is also an act of communication, allowing researchers to make meaningful comparisons between their observations. The science and technology of measurement are easily overlooked, because measuring devices are so familiar to us, but behind even the simplest devices lies an elaborate infrastructure. Consider a laboratory pipette. How accurate are the volumes it dispenses? How similar is it to other pipettes? How do you know? The answers to these questions are a complex story involving everything from the speed to light in vacuum to the atomic properties of cesium.

In iGEM, as in the rest of synthetic biology, measurement is a critical challenge that is receiving an increasing amount of attention each year. For example, one of the long-standing goals of both iGEM and synthetic biology at large, is to characterize biological parts, so that they can be more easily used for designing new systems. Teams in the iGEM Measurement Track is tackle these sort of problems, whether they are about applying known techniques to parts not yet quantified or developing new or better methods for quantifying important biological phenomena.

Please note: All Measurement Track teams are required to participate in the iGEM interlab study.

The Measurement track is a new track, introduced in 2014. You will find images and abstracts of winning Measurement teams in the page below. Also, follow the links below to see projects from all the Measurement track teams.

Recent Winning Measurement projects

William & Mary

Project abstract: As synthetic biologists continue to construct increasingly complex gene regulatory networks, the need for accurate quantitative characterization of their regulatory components becomes more pressing. Despite the BioBrick registry's thorough characterization of the average strength of promoters, there is insufficient description of the variability in their expression. iGEM William & Mary's project aims to characterize this variability, or noise, for the most commonly used promoters in synthetic biology and provide additional tools for the regulation of these promoters.

Undergraduate Grand Prize Winner, Winner of Best Measurement project 2015, Best Education & Public Engagement, Nominated for Best Mathematical Model


Project abstract: Cellock Holmes is a 2D biosensing technology with which can detect bacteria on solid surfaces, devised to overcome the drawbacks of existing techniques and aims for a faster, inexpensive, open source, mobile and an easy to handle detection method. iGEM Aachen demonstrated the proof-of-concept for Cellock Holmes by detecting Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a gram-negative prokaryote that infects patients with open wounds and burns as well as immunodeficient people. P. aeruginosa cells use quorum sensing to communicate with each other by secreting autoinducers into their environment. Using a Synthetic Biology (SynBio) approach, they engineered sensor cells, so-called Cellocks, that are able to detect the native autoinducer of P. aeruginosa and elicit a distinct fluorescence signal. Wwith a modular composition of a genetic device or an alternative approach using Galectin-3, it is also possible to engineer Cellocks to detect other bacteria. Hand in hand with the biological side of our project, the team built the WatsOn measurement device able to read and analyze the fluorescent signal emitted by the 2D biosensor, and an OD/F Device designed to measure optical density and fluorescence of a liquid sample in cuvettes, both designed in accordance with the Open Source principle and with all technical details as well as construction manuals published online.

Winner of Best Measurement project 2014, Best Supporting Software, Safety Commendation

UGA Georgia

Project abstract: Methanococcus maripaludis is a model organism for Archaea, which affords researchers the beneficial qualities such as (1) producing methane used as biogas and (2) manufacturing isoprenoids as precursors for high-value biochemicals. However, there are few genetic tools available for metabolic engineering Archaea. iGEM UGA-Georgia's goal was to develop useful tools for synthetic biology of Archaea, targeting this organism. Building on past M. maripaludis projects, which created and characterized a mCherry reporter system and a recombinant mutant making geraniol, the team worked to (1) create, characterize and model a ribosome-binding site (RBS) library using the mCherry reporter system and (2) model geraniol production of the recombinant M. maripaludis using flux balance analyses. Results showed varying levels of expression in the RBS library, and increased geraniol yield from some growth substrates. Additionally, the team initiated an Archaeal InterLab Study to further characterize the reproducibility of the mCherry reporter system.

Nominated for Best Measurement project 2015