A gold medal, a top nomination and lots of stories- that’s what the Stockholm iGEM team brought back from the finals in Boston.
By Sarah Wideman, Manon Ricard and Anna Vidina
This spring, we wrote about the first team ever, consisting of students from Karolinska Institutet and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, which would participate in the synthetic biology competition iGEM.
Since then a lot has happened. The team finalized their project; the Affibody-based Bacterial Biomarker Assay, which they called in best Swedish tradition just ABBBA. This assay represents a new way to use bacteria for developing a more sensitive and specific early diagnostic tool for cancer. Throughout the entire summer, the team of motivated under- and postgraduate students have worked hard in the laboratory at KTH campus to bring their research project into reality.
At the end of this really exhausting but valuable experience, the team made it to the competition’s finals in Boston, where they were rewarded with a gold medal for their achievements. Furthermore, similar to an Oscar nomination for a movie, the Stockholm iGEM Team got nominated for the award in their track “Health and Medicine”. That means they were among the best four Health and Medicine projects of this year! But they weren’t just noticed for their scientific achievements, their golden outfits also made an impression on other teams, supervisors, judges and organizers.
Now they are back from Boston and we got a chance to talk to some of the “golden” team members.
Carmen (Bioentrepreneurship Master)
Utsa (Toxicology Master)
Hugo (Bioentrepreneurship Master)
What is your first or strongest association when you now hear the word “iGEM”?
Carmen: Team spirit, collaboration, hard work, satisfaction and fun!
Hugo: Innovation, teamwork and fun.
Utsa: Self-exploration. Discovering the “I” in iGEM, so to speak.
Do you think the team achieved their goals?
Carmen: Expectations at the start were to be able to bring a team together and let people know about iGEM and that is for sure accomplished! Expectations were then gathering lab space, equipment and money, difficult when barely anyone had heard about iGEM, and that was also accomplished! And once we had our home/lab, we were driven to learn, make progress in the designed project and have fun…all that was more than accomplished too! Finally, we were the first team coming from Stockholm to Boston with this purpose. In my opinion yes! I think goals were achieved!
Hugo: Indeed, we got to be in the top four in our category Health and Medicine. Additionally, we were awarded a gold medal for the accomplishments of the team. Not bad for being the first team from KI and KTH participating in this competition.
What were the biggest challenges you experienced while participating in the competition?
Utsa: I would say the biggest challenge was to adopt new things in a very short time. We all were from different backgrounds in our team and also from two different universities. We only had three months in the lab to learn new things and apply them, in order to shape up our big project, ABBBA. Though it was difficult, we managed to deal with the challenge and produced some interesting results.
Carmen: Trying to be aware of everything that is going on in the project, keeping up with the overall progress and dealing with constant communication!
Hugo: I personally was involved in fundraising money for the project. The biggest challenge was to get companies and public institutions to believe in and support such a student driven project. Perhaps due to lack of awareness regarding the iGEM competition. However, I believe that we have created a good starting point for future teams.
The final highlight of the competition must have been the jamboree in Boston! What happened there?
Hugo: It was awesome, one of the best experiences of my life. As our project was called ABBBA, we embraced the name and our Swedish roots by dressing up in golden tights and accessories. We did shine at the convention center in Boston. We all enjoyed amazing presentations from other teams and workshops regarding synthetic biology and chats with the FBI. It was the perfect scene for our presentation.
Carmen: Hanging out with the team 24/7 really made me get to know people’s other side, the one that shows during times of the day we barely shared in the lab before. And I think I even like them more now! We woke up 7.30, went to the conference center, attended millions of project presentations and workshops until late in the evening, mingled, ate huge dinners, had fun in Boston streets and brushed our teeth all together! Making decisions upon almost everything together too, trying to meet everyone’s preferences was a challenge that I think we successfully beat while having fun!
Utsa: It was an amazing experience. Boston treated ABBBA really well. We were all dressed in golden attire, which attracted a lot of people. We presented our project really well during an oral presentation and a poster session. We enjoyed a lot as a team; eating together, singing and dancing to ABBA songs, giving feedback to each other and just having fun together.
Did you exchange experiences with many teams? Did you meet many interesting new people?
Hugo: Yes, I mingled with other teams in order to know their experiences and how they had approached and tackled issues arising during the project development. It was a great experience to meet people from all over the world, gathered by the iGEM competition. They all developed incredible projects. The one I remember the most, was made by TAS Taipei, who was the absolute winner of the high school category.
Carmen: There are people from everywhere there, interesting and smart! Too much even, I would dare to say! People there are willing to share all the knowledge and effort they have put in their project. I learned a lot, at a professional and personal level.
Utsa: We also talked to the people from different companies such as IDT and Synberc. It was really good to see the cool machines and techniques the students built this year as well. For example the bacterial music generator made by NYU Shanghai.
What was the highlight of the trip to Boston?
Utsa: There were many things but I would like to highlight two things that I liked most. One is the high school project. I was amazed by their work, presentation and confidence at such a young age. Another thing is the workshops. I thoroughly enjoyed the FBI workshop and the Danceology workshop, where we all learned how to dance on a project theme.
Hugo: For myself, it was the dynamics of the team. I loved sharing this experience with friends and getting to know such interesting people from all over the world. Of course, getting a top position in the competition and bringing the gold medal back to Stockholm was the biggest highlight for the team as it has proven that we can perform better with more support.
Would you recommend other students to participate in iGEM next year? And Why?
Utsa: I would highly recommend other students to be a part of iGEM world. It is about opportunities and experience that every student looks for, you especially gain very valuable lab skills.
Hugo: Totally. This has been one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. I would love to do it again, therefore I strongly recommend students who want to have fun to take part in this project. I’m sure they will never regret it.
Carmen: Definitely, I think it is an experience that allows you to learn about science, other people, and especially yourself!