Collaborations are crucial in iGEM and in scientific research in general. Sharing ideas and experiences with other teams can be of great help for improving the respective projects. Also, iGEM teams collaborate on human practices, joining their ideas to bring synthetic biology closer to the general public. During our iGEM journey we had the chance to collaborate with several teams from around the world.


As last year the first-ever Estonian team had collaborated with Aalto-Helsinki team, we were glad to be contacted by this year’s team and continue the tradition. Besides sharing some useful tips and advices on our projects during the Skype meetings, we decided to collaborate on public engagement. On the 22nd of September, members from the Estonian team traveled all the way from Tartu to Helsinki to help us during our exhibition at Heureka. At Heureka, they brought their fun games about synthetic biology and explained their project to visitors. On the 28th of September, some of us went to Estonia and took part in the AHHAA science fair where the Tartu_TUIT team was engaging the general public, and the children in particular, with a play-based learning approach. We also took part in this by explaining our plasmid game to AHHAA visitors. It was great to be able to meet the team in person and we think that both our human outreach activities benefited from gaining a more international perspective!

Our team and four members from Tartu_TUIT team at Heureka.

Our team members at AHHAA Science Park in Tartu, with part of the Estonian team.


The UCL iGEM team was also working with silk protein this year. We had had several Skype meetings with them in which we discussed the challenges we encountered while producing and purifying the silk protein and talked about strategies on how to pull fibers out of it. In particular, it was very helpful to discuss purification methods, considering the advantages and disadvantages of using heat to lyse cells or isolating the protein using the His-tag instead. We also discussed about which E. coli strains would be more suitable for cloning and producing the protein and ended up using different production chassis which we could then compare. Besides silk-related work, together we went through troubleshooting about several parts of our project, such as Human Practices.

iGEM Toulouse

As the iGEM Toulouse team was working on functionalizing cellulose, we met them on Skype to discuss our respective approaches on cellulose binding. We planned to have a collaboration in which we would send them our birch cellulose nanofibrils and receive their bacterial cellulose produced by Gluconacetobacter hansenii, so that both teams could test their own products on two different substrates. Unfortunately, due to time limitations we could not complete this collaboration, but it would have been a great opportunity to further test the binding affinity of our final products.

iGEM Düsseldorf

We decided to participate in iGEM Düsseldorf’s Postcards collaboration idea. The goal of this collaboration was to design synthetic biology themed postcards to bring the topic closer to the general public. Every participating team created a postcard related to their project or synthetic biology in general and sent 100 printed postcards to Düsseldorf iGEM team. They then took care of sending back to each team 50 postcards together with 50 postcards from other teams. In this way, each team would have a range of hands-on materials to share with their local community during public engagement events. Our postcard design represented the theme of our project: colors and dyeing.

Our postcard design.


In their project, the NUS_Singapore team was also tackling the environmental pollution caused by the textile dyeing industry by producing natural dyes with synthetic biology. Given the affinity of our goals, we decided to collaborate on human practices. On the one hand, we joined our efforts in finding reliable and unambiguous sources on the issue, to have a better and more consistent picture of the damages that textile dyeing is doing to the environment and human populations. On the other hand, we agreed to parallelly write learning materials about sustainability that could be potentially used to educate the fashion industry players about natural dyes. Unfortunately, this second part of the collaboration was not completed due to our busy schedules, yet both projects benefited from our thorough discussions about the textile industry.

Skype meeting.

iGEM Vilnius-Lithuania

Aalto-Helsinki took part in a Vilnius-Lithuania team organized 3-day Biohackathon Lab Issues, which took place in Vilnius University Life Sciences Center in August 2018. This has been a great opportunity to meet other iGEM teams, scientists and the broader community and all together to work towards the same goal- help scientists solve problems they face in their labs every day.

Our Biohackathon team.

Collaboration overview:

  • Work towards a common goal: Improving the Lab Work. The topic of the biohackathon has made ourselves to step back and look at the issues we encounter daily in our work, think about the future developments and what improvements could be done. This has been a moment where we could apply our iGEM lab work experience for the common good of the scientific community, apply the learnings for the new developments making the lab more efficient, precise, and meeting the current needs.

  • Live the iGEM experience. This has been rather a unique opportunity to visit the hosting Vilnius-Lithuania team, it’s home university, workspaces and spend the time together. Also, other than the hosting team we met a couple of other teams (from Lund and Groningen). This has been a great chance to learn about each other’s projects, progress, issues encountered and help each other by sharing the knowledge, experience, contacts and establishing collaboration opportunities.

  • iGEM involvement in the local community. BioHackathon was hosted by Vilnius-Lithuania iGEM team. Participants were both iGEM teams and the local community members interested in the topic. In our hackathon team, we were happy to have us join a non-iGEM’er, who brought us some fresh perspective and extra programming skills which were very needed at that moment.

  • Learning environment The BioHackathon gave us a chance for us not only to learn from each other but also from the experts. We have been mentored by the experts from the different fields and had a chance to hear the lectures given by a Scientist Urtė Neniškytė, Minister of Economy Virginijus Sinkevičius and an Entrepreneur Evaldas Pabrėža who have shared their insights gained through years of experience.

  • Alto-Helsinki solution a web application Finder. In a 3-day BioHackathon Aalto-Helsinki team has developed a web application Finder. It is an online search engine for the lab items so as to help the lab workers easier and faster find the needed reagents and other items. This came out from our own personal experience while working in a new lab during the summer. We believe this would increase the efficiency of lab workers, especially it would be helpful for those working for a short-term so as to onboard in a fast and intuitive way. Finally, this would be really helpful in a new type of labs- community labs where fast onboarding is essential. One of the community labs is just emerging at the moment at Aalto University where we join in the early development of it.

  • Teams that took part in the collaboration come from Lund, Groningen, Vilnius, and Helsinki.

Other Conferences

During the summer we got the chance to meet other iGEM teams and network with them in four different occasions: besides the already mentioned BioHackathon in Vilnius and the collaboration on public engagement we had with the Tartu team, we attended both the Nordic iGEM Conference in Lund and the European meetup in Munich. The conferences were a great opportunity to present our project and receive valuable feedback on it, as well as a way to get to know what other iGEM teams were working on. In this way we identified some of the teams with which we could potentially have a collaboration, such as the Toulouse team.

Our team presenting at the Nordic iGEM Conference in Lund. (Photo by Lovisa Majtorp.)

Our team leader, Shirajum, presenting our poster at the European meetup in Munich.