IIT Kharagpur’s first participation in iGEM

​iGEM – international Genetically Engineered Machine is an international organization for the advancement of synthetic biology research around the globe. It organizes an annual competition where top educational institutions in the relevant fields develop genetics’ projects and participate. Students from a wide variety of disciplines team up and participate in order to tackle key issues in genetics’ research in today’s world.

Two (current) 5th year students from the Biotechnology department, Krishna Deepak and Aayushman Shrivastava, formed the first iGEM – IIT Kharagpur team with their friends in 2013. Two years and innumerable hurdles later, IIT Kharagpur successfully entered their first construct in the iGEM registry in the 12th international iGEM event held in September 2015. We got together with Harsheel Soin & Yogesh Lakhotia (two of the participants from IIT Kharagpur) from the iGEM team to get to know more. Here’s a summary of our interview with them.

iGEM is not a traditional conference of researchers. Instead of presenting one complete and validated paper dealing with a particular subject of interest, participants are required to come up with impactful ideas having practical implications in the Biotechnology sector. So, in this way, students from around the globe participate on a giant collaborative platform supported by the iGEM community. iGEM maintains a running registry of genetic ‘biobricks’ that have been developed by the student teams that compete in its annual competition. Teams are evaluated on the work they do throughout the year & which goes into developing these constructs. Another important aspect of the iGEM event is the multidisciplinary nature of its participation. Researchers in Energy, Environment, Food & Nutrition, Health & Medicine and many other fields come together to collaborate and learn in this event. The competition is also unique as it promotes teams to help each other by sharing of resources and knowledge.

Some facts: this year 50 universities participated and the best teams put in 30-40 constructs. The main event is held in Boston and teams essentially only have 4-5 months to develop their project for the event. The theme for iGEM – IIT Kharagpur’s project was ‘Food Spoilage’. The project consists of a gene construct which is developed in accordance with a given theme and also a website detailing all the necessary information about that project. These websites, called “wikis”, go online on the iGEM wiki repository for the benefit of other researchers. iGEM provides each team with a DNA kit to start them off on their project.

To understand what actually goes into developing an iGEM project one can draw a familiar, albeit rather loose parallel to what TeamKART does. Instead of developing a formula student car, they are developing a microscopic gene in a lab. The many hurdles the team faced in their journey to Boston included raising adequate funds which may run into several lakhs of rupees, convincing professors and the administration to get on board with their plans, getting access to lab, equipment and other resources and finding the right team mix of talent and grit to execute such a project in a limited time frame and still maintain competitive standards.

Currently, iGEM is actively seeking talented genetics’ research enthusiasts to join them in their endeavors. A team of 10 – 15 people usually spend their summers in the Kharagpur campus to develop a project. Plans are underway to secure BTP credits for iGEM projects to facilitate better participation. The iGEM – IIT Kharagpur story has only just begun. Team Scholars’ Avenue wishes them the best for the future.

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