Published: 24-07-2015 13:33 | Updated: 29-07-2015 15:09

Contest - a hub for future scientists

Set up a lab, deal with finances, plan, execute and analyze science and in an interesting way communicate the results. This is what students from Karolinska Institutet are dealing with this summer. The International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) is a contest that will prepare the participants early on for a future career in science.

A Stockholm team is now battling for the title in The International Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM), a contest where students within the field of synthetic biology will construct their own biological system and in different ways incorporate them into living cells. iGEM, which started in 2004, this year includes a record of 281 teams worldwide. Different components such as science, innovation and scientific communication are all part of the competition. The initiative was founded at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has now become a part of the education for engaged students at Karolinska Institutet.

Felix RichterFelix Richter is hopeful because his 18-person team with students from KI and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have developed a system that will allow cells to show when they are exposed to an antigen, i.e., something that will trigger an immunological reaction.

“In our project, Affibody-Based Bacterial Biomarker Assay, we use bacteria that sense the antigen and then mass produce a light signal. Now all team members have learned the techniques and next week we will see if our system really works.”Felix Richter

The competition lasts all summer and the winners are presented at a science conference in Boston later this fall, but until then there is a lot of activity. This weekend KI students, together with students from Uppsala, are hosting a conference with the Nordic teams present.

“The possibility to “take over a lab” and work on our own is invaluable in itself, but then there is also a lot of practice in communication, primarily within the teams but also between the teams, which increases the individual social competence and helps in getting new perspectives. As of today we have fruitful collaborations with teams from, e.g., Germany, France, Finland, Israel and Taiwan.”

Felix Richter points out that his team is developed and run by the students themselves. Supervisors are in place but it is this young generation of scientists-to-be that get all the responsibility, from the primary idea all the way to the presentation in Boston.iGEM Stockholm group

“We take responsibility both in success as well as failure. This is a step in the right direction for modern education and I hope it will be a permanent feature for interested students at KI.”

The students have gotten financial support from The Board of Research and The Board of Doctoral Education at KI.

“This way, the individual student gets to practice for a future career in science. It is also a good way to increase internationalization, initiate entrepreneurship and stimulate a way of thinking scientifically during the students’ undergraduate studies. We are very proud of these industrious students,” says Maria G. Masucci, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for International Affairs at Karolinska Institutet.

Text: Frida Wennerholm