Reading’s iGEM team gears up for another year of success

Slumped with tiredness in my 9am lecture, after mentally preparing myself for a 2 hour struggle whilst waiting for the lecture to begin, a bashful Hannah Collard (3rd year biomedical student) stood before us and briefly talked about a meeting involving something called iGEM later that week.

You’ve probably never heard of iGEM – I know I certainly hadn’t until that hazy Tuesday morning – but I was intrigued, so decided to attend the meeting to see for myself if it was worth the hype, which was held by 2 members of the previous year’s team: Hannah, and Jarek Bryk – a postdoc from the NCBE. They briefly introduced the concept and ideas of iGEM and what getting involved would entail. iGEM stands for ‘Internationally Genetically Engineered Machine’. Described as “world-class”, iGEM is a massive international competition held in America, allowing students to show off projects involving synthetic biology. Teams represent their universities and prizes are awarded for the best projects.

My first thought was, “Why hasn’t everyone heard about this already?” I organised a further meeting with a few members of the team to find out more, which is how I found myself in the music-filled, snakebite-smelling depths of Mojo’s with Jarek, Hannah and Andrew Moynihan, a 2nd year Artificial Intelligence student.

“This will be only the second year the university have put forward an iGEM team”, Hannah explains. “It’s a competition between more than 200 universities that aims to promote the integration between synthetic biology and engineering. It’s held in Boston.”

Andrew was enthusiastic about last year’s project. “It was not the standard summer project from what I’ve seen. We had our goal, we had the means to achieve it and for a lot of the time we were left to our own devices. It was liberating!”

Jarek speaks with his mouth full whilst tucking into a curry. “We managed a bronze award last year which is impressive as it was the first time the university had competed. I’m hoping this year to score a gold at least.”

The university’s work is showcased in front of the other hundreds of international universities competing, which is a great opportunity for showing off the cream of Reading’s biologists.

iGEM is more than just working in the lab. They take part in fundraising and hold talks in schools. It is an “awesome opportunity” which more students should partake in, because “it’s great work experience, it’s fun and it’s really rewarding,” says Hannah.

At this point Jarek looks at his empty plate and wraps up the chat. “This sort of funding and support from the university should become a regular event at the university, the interest in the students is quite high and it would just be bigger the more we do it.”

Past team members are optimistic for this year’s project. Without a doubt this year’s project looks promising, with previous members predicting vast improvements on Reading’s previous accomplishments.

Recruitment is still ongoing as the iGEM team is still seeking out all talent in various UoR departments. If you’d like to find out more about the iGEM project, its team and their upcoming events, email Hannah at collardhannah@gmail.com.

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