iGEM: Funding the Future

Featured+above+is+the+Lambert+iGEM+team.+Consisting+of+fourteen+members%2C+this+close-knit+group+is+expanding+society%27s+understanding+of+the+universe+while+bettering+the+world+in+intricate+ways.+

Featured above is the Lambert iGEM team. Consisting of fourteen members, this close-knit group is expanding society's understanding of the universe while bettering the world in intricate ways.

The brilliant Stephen Hawking once said, “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge”. Just like this quote suggests, the future of society and the success of its people has become dependent on the adventurous scientists and their endeavors to better the world. Through the use of synthetic biology and genetic engineering, the International Genetically Engineered Machine, more commonly recognized as iGEM, can be seen leading the ground-breaking exploration of this frontier; the organization recruits young minds to expand the knowledge of the universe in seemingly microscopic ways which can prove to be exponentially beneficial to the world.

In 2003, iGEM first made its appearance in the world as an independent study course in Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This course began to appeal to a wide variety of students, resulting in the transformation of the course into a competition known as the Jamboree. iGEM, having only 5 teams in 2004, grew to incorporate 280 teams in 2015, consisting of people from more than 30 different countries. Through their shared passion for exploration and competition, students who participate in this non-profit organization today make it their mission to not only attempt to improve society via synthetic biology, but also try to establish a sense of community and understanding through collaboration and shared goals.

Historically, the scientific achievements associated with synthetic biology have bettered humanity in many ways. From the Lambert High School iGEM team, Emily Gibson states, “As a lactose intolerant person I think genetic engineering is really cool because I can consume milk and ice cream from brands like Lactaid that get rid of the lactose protein since my body doesn’t have enough lactase. That is just one example of how with genetics and biology we are really able to better people’s lives”. Emily Gibson further explained how other iGEM teams and independent studies associated with synthetic biology have improved the lives of many in seemingly miniscule ways. Researchers and iGEM teams have done experimentation with methods of water purification, medication with Chinese herbs, rice with enhanced vitamin content, and the derivation of insulin to help those with diabetes. Through each of these studies, the main focus has been societal benefit.

iGEM celebrates many scientific achievements with each passing year; however, perhaps it’s greatest accomplishment, foreign to many other organizations, is acceptance. Regardless of gender or racial background, iGEM readily accepts members based on their potential to contribute to the research and competition by concealing the portion of the application regarding identity and background information from the panel of judges reviewing each application.  In society today, people have become untrusting based on the differences in personal beliefs, racial background, and cultural identity. iGEM sets the example for other scientists and explorers by uniting people through their passion for science. According to the Lambert High School iGEM team member Lauren Hong, “Competing at the Jamboree is a really great experience because we get to meet people from around the globe who come together for our shared love of science”. Natalie Shih, another member of the Lambert High School iGEM team agreed with Lauren and stated that, “It was really beautiful to see the amount of knowledge people pour into this field and see how many people are not only willing to compete but also are attempting to increase the amount of knowledge in the world for other people to use and to better humanity”. Natalie Shih continually reflected that, “You run into a lot of people who want to have a intellectual conversations with you not only about science but also about life, philosophy, other things in general which you don’t get much exposure to in high school or with younger people because they might not have the same mindfulness as you might if you were on the iGEM team”. The sense of unity found in iGEM is an incredible source of inspiration for other scientists who are attempting to help the world.

Ultimately, iGEM  can be considered one of the best assets to humanity in the exploration for knowledge as it inspires its members, providing them with valuable life lessons. Gaurav Byagathvalli, another proud member of the Lambert iGEM team, stated,  “iGEM really has changed my life. I believe that in the future, I want to go into a career in medicine. iGEM is an incredible opportunity for me to pursue that dream”. He went on to describe the valuable skills he’s learned from iGEM, especially involving communication. Gaurav Byagathvalli stated, “Being able to communicate and collaborate with others is essential for everyone to be successful on this team. We compete against colleges, and the capability and potential they have alongside their superior intellect provides them with an advantage over us. Within our fourteen member team, we need to be as close as a family in order to be able to be successful at the Jamboree. We need communication to make sure everything functions and we are able to act as a system”. Megan Hong described how she too was interested in a career in this field thanks to her experience with the Lambert iGEM team. She stated, “ For me it was a way to branch out into different aspects of healthcare. I joined as a freshman, so I started with intro to healthcare which was a way to get a start in the specifics of biotechnology.”

iGEM is undoubtedly a leader in society’s grand expedition of the future, and hence would be a shame if humanity didn’t start to support their efforts. iGEM desperately requires funding. Emily Gibson described how, “We [the Lambert iGEM team] are one of only nine high school teams in the United States that actually participates in Jamboree. In our research to participate in this prestigious competition, all the lab work we do is very costly. A little tube of enzymes costs approximately $60, but we can go through that supply in two weeks”. Gaurav Byagathvalli built off of her statement in stating that, “We use donated equipment as opposed to being offered grants. We are an underfunded high school team and this makes it harder for us to function properly”. iGEM teams such as that of Lambert deserve to be funded. By failing to recognize the potential benefit of iGEM, humanity will always fall behind in development. Donate to the Lambert iGEM team or your local iGEM team today!