Fired Up For iGEM

i-760bb6e7accf9b674ddb3e448186d96c-twitter-icon.pngiGEM officially starts for the Harvard team tomorrow for some good old-fashioned fun with BioBricks, arabidopsis, protein-based sweeteners, and shRNA! Our goal is to make a system for genetically engineering plants safely and easily with some hopefully fun and useful applications in the short term. iGEM (the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition) is about fun and open science, so we hope you enjoy following along with our adventure on our wiki, blog, twitter, or even become a fan on facebook. As a proud teaching fellow I'll be posting updates here periodically all summer, and I'm also hoping for some guest-blog posts from the students themselves, so stay tuned!

A big part of iGEM is also human practices--how advances in synthetic biology and biological engineering will affect the people who use them, the environment, and other ethical, social, political, and economic issues that emerge with new technologies. We'd love to start a dialog online about genetic engineering in plants and food--why is genetically modified food such a contentious issue in some countries but less so in others? Can genetic modification be used to make food safer or to make agriculture more sustainable? Is consumer- or small farmer-driven genetic engineering feasible? Can home gardeners engineer their own plants safely, to specially tailor their garden to their needs? Can genetically engineered foods be "natural"? When you hear about genetically modified food, what comes to mind? Would you eat something engineered by undergrads, or by your or your neighbor? Human practices is about these questions and a lot more, and we're very interested to hear what you think, to build a better summer project and to maybe someday make better genetically modified foods.

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Sounds fun -- good luck!

Cambridge iGEM team starts next week! I won't be there for the first two teaching weeks, but I'll be around to help and advise this years team once they start the actual science work (I'm doing a summer project in the iGEM organisers lab - hopefully turning last years violacein work into a paper!). I can't wait to see what this years team decide to do.