THE UK iGEM MEET UP
As a team, we wanted to help other iGEM competitors get the most out of their experience. Entering a Synthetic Biology competition with relatively little prior lab experience can be a daunting task. Most of the students who enter the competition will never have followed a science project for such an extended period, and will almost certainly never have designed the project. However, we also firmly believe that there is a lot to be gained from participating in the competition.
To that end, we decided we could most benefit the other teams by hosting this years annual UK team meet up. We felt that we had a lot to offer students of other teams, both in terms of location and the expertise of staff present. Our team was a collaboration of efforts between the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the John Innes Centre (JIC). The UEA has been regularly ranked in the top five places for student satisfaction in the UK. It was our hope that any students who were looking to completing a PhD in the future might consider UEA as one of their options. The JIC, where our team was primarily based, is one of the world leading research centres, both in terms of Europe and globally, for plant and microbial research. It also boasts a large number of post graduate students, and each year takes on more. Some well known and prestigious names operate at both the UEA and JIC, and we were keen to give other teams the chance to explore both sites and arrange meetings with our staff.
Arguably the greatest benefit of the conference was the chance to meet other teams. We felt that interactions between teams would be of vital benefit. We ourselves had been wondering where we stood in comparison to other teams; whether we had progressed as far as we should have; how outlandish was our project in comparison to others; and lastly but certainly not least: had we bitten off more than we could chew? The conference allowed all of the UK iGEM teams the chance to ascertain the answers to all of these questions during the short, twenty minute presentations we organised to be held by each team. All of these were fascinating, and have been uploaded onto our WIKI for the viewing pleasure of other teams, both those that participated and other teams from further afield. These presentation videos offer the chance for all UK iGEM teams to analyse their performance when presenting and therefore provide practice for the European Jamboree.
We also arranged a series of talks by presenters we felt would be interesting to other teams. Our own Supervisor, Dr Paul O Maille, of the JIC/ IFR (institute of Food Research) gave a talk: "Biosynthesis and Synthetic Biology", which revealed much about his work on Turpene structure, evolution and applications, as well as sharing his views on the idea of Synthetic Biology as a whole, still a much disputed concept. Baojun Wang, of Imperial College London, gave a talk on "A robust, orthogonal and modular genetic logic gate design, forward engineered for digital-like Synthetic Biology". His presentation delved into the engineering perspective of Synthetic Biology, a viewpoint that, while often mentioned, is not necessarily always acknowledged. We sought Baojun's views as we felt they were vital to the iGEM competition, which focuses heavily on the marrying of Engineering and Biology. "Design, characterisation and imaging tools for engineering genetic circuits", was another fascinating talk delivered by James Brown, of the University of Cambridge. This talk showed clearly the importance of proper characterisation of Biobricks, as well as demonstrating several methods of doing so. Lastly we saw a talk from Andy Bulmer, of the University of Manchester: "Beyond the survey...What is human practices for?" This was an especially useful presentation on an often neglected topic, in which Andy highlighted the importance of a philosophical approach to the science we, as an iGEM team, were conducting.
The conference was not all work, however! We took care to ensure that it was an enjoyable experience as well as a valuable one. We arranged an evening's entertainment at the JIC, with catering provided by Papa John's pizzeria of Norwich. A later excursion into the Norwich city nightlife lasted until the early hours of the morning, and certainly gave the bars and clubs something to talk about! At the end of the conference we ensured that there was an afternoon available for teams to explore both the Norwich Research Park and the UEA campus along with the various sightseeing attractions in Norwich city centre, giving everyone the break they deserved!
All in all, the UK iGEM meet up was one of the highlights of our iGEM competition, and we thoroughly hope it was equally enjoyable to all of those who attended!