The international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is the largest worldwide synthetic biology competition for collegiate students. The objective of the competition is to design and build an engineered biological system using DNA technologies. It aims to combine and create novel genetic parts, which can be incorporated in an organism, thereby equipping it with new functions. Each year teams from universities and colleges all over the world work throughout the summer to produce their enhanced organism, created using synthetic biology. This year our work will be presented to the scientific community at the Giant Jamboree in Boston in October 2016.

The project is publicized through public relations efforts, social media, and the team’s own Wiki page. Funding for the team is raised by the students from university groups and local industries. The project also has a human practice component, in which the social, legal and ethical issues of the project are considered, through considerations of the possible risks of the project, interviews with relevant end-users and affected community members, and designing of appropriate safety and deployment mechanisms.

As engineering students, this year’s team decided to bring applied physics and bio-engineering closer together by choosing bio-optics as their project. The students will be synthesizing bacteria that can function as a laser and bacteria that are able to produce lightweight biological microlenses. Synthesizing these bacteria will hopefully be a step towards increased spectral resolution in both single cell imaging and multicellular communities. Also, this project can pave the way to cheaper and lightweight lenses, which can be used in a variety of applications: from next generation smartphone cameras to solar cells and even small, cheap and lightweight microscopes with improved resolution, produced in a low-cost, biological and environmentally friendly way.

Our team consists of ten ambitious students with interdisciplinary backgrounds (Nanobiology, Life Science and Technology, Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering), working full time to achieve their goal, the golden medal. The team is advised by experts in the fields of biotechnology, bionanoscience and applied physics. If the project goes as expected, the team will be the first in the world to produce a fully biological laser.

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