Team:HUST-China/Integrated Practices

Integrated Practices

Integrated Practices

HUST-Cheering! Conference

This year, we successfully held the first “iGEM HUST-Cheering!” conference. After over four months’ preparation, the conference was held on July 8th and 9th. We invited NCTU_FORMOSA, Nanjing-China, HAZU-China, NUDT-China, Jilin_China, ShanghaiTech_ChinaB and WHU-China to the conference. During the two days of conference, we not only kept the traditional forms of presentation and poster session, but also designed fun activities to expand attendees’ understanding and critical thinking of the development of synthetic biology and iGEM. Those activities included free debate about the better research method of synthetic biology, “Quiz King” (synthetic biology Q&A competition), and iGEM life salon.

It is worth mentioning that, before the conference, many attendees were under great pressure of doing experiment and other preparation for the Jamboree. During the conference, this pressure might even be deepened by listening to other teams’ presentations. But those fun activities significantly expelled the worried looks on attendees’ faces. Especially in the final part of iGEM life salon, Professor Chen Wenliang from team NCTU_Formosa shared his idea of “enjoying science”. He reminded us that whether to win a medal or not was not important comparing with whether you had fun in this experience. It was more convincing with a positive attitude and a smile on your face to show the judge that you had benefited a lot from this experience. And with this attitude, it wouldn’t be hard at all to fulfill the project and claim a medal. All the attendees were deeply moved by this idea and the true meaning of iGEM became clear to us. This conference was really a “cheer-up” for us as host and also for all the attendees. It gave us inspirations on changing perspective to our work both inside and outside the lab.

And we mainly explored three questions about iGEM during the conference:

1. How to build a promising and energetic team?

  • Click to know our conclusion

  • Starting from interest and diversity:

    With the rapid development of Synthetic Biology, it’s definite that iGEM has become a multidisciplinary jamboree. Not only biology but also chemistry, physics, computing science, engineering science and more are involved in iGEM. Therefore, no matter which field you’re in, anybody interested in Synthetic Biology are welcome to participate in iGEM and it’s sure that you can play a role in your iGEM trip.

    The most efficient way to development is gathering companions together to talk about the frontier of biology and nobody can stop the flight of our thoughts. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have relative knowledge or experience, because during training and studying, we will have some insight into our project and meanwhile, we will know more about Synthetic Biology, which makes learning more interesting and instructive.

    Inheritance and innovation:

    To attach more creativity and novelty to the project, it’s important that senior team members need to lead and guide freshmen, providing them effective methods in proper time and preserving their possibility. By considering items from different aspects, we can gain more solutions and ideas. Moreover, reflection and summarization are necessary. We can learn a lot from the years in iGEM, helping us to optimize and do better in the next year.

    Inspection and supervision:

    Appropriate inspection and supervision system is also essential for the accomplishment of the project because we are facing plenty of challenges. And this system can press us to shoulder more and dedicate more and it’s the guarantee for your acquisition and development. Inspection and supervision system can keep our teams dynamic and remind every member to stay enthusiastic and hard-working.

2. What does iGEM mean to us?

  • Click to know our conclusion

  • iGEM teams put up many original and alive concepts and projects through years. And they made great efforts on it. But how many of the projects have been really put into practice and will some previous concepts be possible to achieve now? These questions are mostly concerned from the outside. But are these all of it? What are the things iGEM actually bring to us? The question is worth discussing.

    Firstly, we need to define what is iGEM and what is synthetic biology. The two are not the same concept. Synthetic Biology is developed based on multiple subjects such as biology, maths, engineering and so on. It provides us a training of thought to deal with a real-world problem. It is trying to compete with physical, chemical or computational methods with its unique features of living cell: it can proliferate and self-evolve. And iGEM are the son of synthetic biology but it is growing up. This is not a simple competition but also a stage where gifted and creative students try to answer synthetic biology questions, raise interest in science and make friends who sing the same songs. We share and communicate with our experiences, ideas and even lifestyles and cultures. It helps students step into scientific world and shape their future.

    So what iGEM brings to us are somewhat depends on what we think of it and treat it. Every team may have its own character, it could be relaxing, passionate or somewhat. It is just for fun but we should work hard, so that we can feel the happiness from within, during the process of the competition.

    And only with this kind of attitude, iGEMers could get down to doing some big issues that really make sense to synthetic biology or are able to solve real-world problems.

    So the products are not all of iGEM, iGEM is far from that. It has been a culture that students from different background chase for.

3. Is plant synthetic biology possible ?

  • Click to know our conclusion

  • Many difficulties can occur in plant research, such as long experimental cycle, low transformation efficiency, limitation of experimental conditions and so on. But with the development of synthetic biology, we are facing more and more complex systems. Some features like the ability of photosynthesis highlight the advantage of plant in research. So balancing the two aspects, is plant iGEM really possible?

    Firstly, its long growing time and higher standards for living environment make it conflict with annually held iGEM as we are always rushing in our preparation of the competition. We should consider extending the participation cycle.

    Secondly, whether iGEM is suitable for the fundamental research in plants remains a question. Screening the mutants in plant is a process which needs relatively low techniques but high throughput. The valuable concepts in the research depend more on the capability of the professional faculties instead of students’ scientific skills.

    Thirdly, at present, the experimental techniques in plants are behind those in other organisms. It seems that people are more concerned about scientific hotspots like medicine or healthcare, thus animal research gets more attention. The techniques in plants are almost derived from those in animals and many researchers rely more on the traditional experimental methods.

    Moreover, as an important aspect in the biological research, the safety issue in genetically modified plant requires more consideration.

    However, this doesn’t mean that we should give no thought on plant iGEM.

    Actually, some previous iGEM teams have done good job in plant. A good choice of chassis is important. Considering the growth cycle, the possibility of genetic manipulation and other factors, plants like Arabidopsis thaliana and Physcomitrella patens may have advantage. On the other hand, teams can consider extending the participation cycle for a deeper research. Also, with a lot of mysteries remaining in the field of plant, its application in breeding, evolution and environmental protection is promising. Even the advancement of experimental techniques can be a good direction in plant research.

    Therefore, plant synthetic biology deserves careful consideration but also a brave try. With enough preparation and efforts, it can be possible.

End-User Considerations

According to the discussion during HUST-Cheering conference, we found huge audience market of our gene expression toolkit. If we can relieve iGEMers from constructing complex circuit, more and more people will easily join and create their own project to boom synthetic biology. So we moved on to figure out what our potential end-users need indeed to make a more user-friendly toolkit. Therefore, we delivered a questionnaire to hundreds of iGEM teams around the world by means of e-mail and social networks. Luckily, we received 24 responses. Here is the questionnaire and its analysis.

Questionnaire for Human Practices (End-User Considerations)

Dear friend:  

We are team members of HUST-China. We are looking for potential end-users of our product this year: Signal Filter (for more information, see In order to optimize our design to better fit the needs of iGEM teams, we hope to hear the voice from all the iGEMers who might be suffering from the problems of unstable gene expression. We will be grateful if you can spare some time to complete this questionnaire. Thank you!


1.Are your projects related to bi-stable or tri-stable state of gene expression?



2. Have you ever considered that well-designed biological stable-state can make your system work better?



We can see from figure 1&2 that most of the teams(taking up 75%) whose projects are not related to bi-stable or tri-stable state of gene expression have ever considered to utilize a stable-state to optimize their project. We discussed with a few teams and found that they thought designing a bi-table circuit of multi-stable circuit is difficult and constructing complex circuits is burdening. And some teams believed that they hadn’t been involved in such multi-interactive regulation network. We can see that people were used to adopting mature methods to control their gene of interest. Creating new control circuit could be a barrier.

3.Have you ever been bothered with the problems on gene expression cotrolling ? Please choose from the following:

1. Signal attenuation

2. Signal delay

3. Expression leakage

4. Lack of robustness

5. Low promoter intensity

6. Excess promoter intensity

7. Others(please specify)

The result showed that all iGEMers taking the survey have ever been bothered by gene expression problems, among which lack of robustness is the problem most of them (taking up 62.5%) encounter. Expression leakage is the second problem (taking up 58.33%) they are worried about. And these two matters are crucial when we put our engineered strain into practice, because real-world conditions are more complex than lab, there will be factors to interrupt the input signal and gene product let along the background noise in the strain itself. And just as team William and Marry did in 2015 they promoted low-noise promoter to deal with background noise in the strain. What we are trying to do is to decrease noise of signal input, in other words, filtering the input signal to guarantee stable gene product expression.

4. Please describe your problems on gene expression controlling and how do you solve these problems?

On the sheet of answers toward this question, we could see various odd gene expression problems. After combing them, we noticed that 1/3 of respondents had mentioned that they could not find a promoter that had just suitable intensity, neither too low nor too high. To settle this, most chose to change their promoter, others chose to change culture time. However, the variety of promoters is rather limited. Thus, seeking for substitutions is not always the best solution. So here comes the second feature of our signal filter: we can set its threshold by adjusting different regulatory promoters and the amount of its interactive protein. And our circuit can further switch gene expression between two or more thresholds by designing the internal interactive to reach stable state.

5. If there is a tool that can solve these problems, what functions do you expect it to have?

1. Signal amplification

2. Fast-response

3. Noise reduction

4. Stable-state enhancement

5. Threshold adjustability

6. Others(please specify)

Most respondents (taking up 58.33%) thought that threshold adjustability is the most desirable features of such a tool. Fast-response, Noise reduction and Stable-state enhancement take up 50% , ranking No.2 among all choices.

Therefore, we concluded that what people exactly need was a tool to make their circuit more robust and stable in response to input signal fluctuations. Being bothered by unsuitable promoter, what they also desire is the capability of toolkit to not only control gene expression to adapt to various inputs but also adjust threshold intensity of input to satisfy their requirements on different purposes. And according to our design, this is just what we want to do for all iGEMers. We have already create two versions of gene expression toolkit and we are heading to the next!