Stanford-Brown 2016

We're the 2016 Stanford-Brown iGEM Team.

This summer we were based at NASA Ames Research Center, and we worked toward building a bioballoon.
NASA is in the midst of several exciting long-term projects, exploring other planets and investigating the origins of life. However, it is very costly to send research materials into space. On the most recent Dragon cargo spacecraft sent to the International Space Station (ISS), the cost of cargo was about $9,100 per pound (i.e. over $9,100 to carry your typical 16-ounce water bottle1). If NASA wants to continue to perform critical long-term studies like the search for life on Mars, the agency needs research tools that are less expensive to send and more reliable over extended periods of time.
This is where synthetic biology could prove a transformative technology. Instead of sending bulky materials, we could send microbes engineered to grow the components required to build various tools and structures. This technology could help make sustained space research feasible.
This summer, our team has been working towards building a sensing balloon made of biomaterials. Traditionally balloons have been ideal tools for atmospheric research: they can track weather patterns and monitor atmospheric composition. Our bioballoon could be used to traverse long distances and collect data in hard-to-reach places on other planets, complementing a rover's capabilities. The bioballoon could be “grown” and re-grown with the same bacteria, dramatically reducing the cost of transport and production.
We have been engineering bacteria to produce balloon membrane polymers with different properties of strength and elasticity. We have used algae to produce biological hydrogen that could inflate the balloon. We have engineered bacteria to produce radiation resistant materials that would increase balloon durability. Finally, we have been working on biological thermometers and small molecule sensors that could attach to our balloon's surface. Together, these projects could create a novel scientific instrument: cheap, light, durable, and useful to planetary scientists.
Our balloon is not just for outer space. It can be used to collect data on Earth, as well. Each of our balloon subcomponents has independent applications. For example, this summer we made a biological thermometer sticker that changes color when placed on a hot flask. We also successfully engineered bacteria to produce natural latex.

Project Highlights

Scroll on to find links to our sub-projects!

BioMembrane: Click to learn more!

Collagen & Elastin


UV Protection

BioSensor: Click to learn more!


Fluorophore-Quencher Sensor

Aptamer Purification

Float: Click to learn more!

Human Practices: Click to learn more!

Gas Production

Human Practices

1) Kramer, S. (2016). Here's how much money it actually costs to launch stuff into space. Business Insider. Retrieved 19 October 2016, from