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Our project

We, the iGEM team Aachen 2018, are addressing a medical issue that has gained tremendous importance in past decades: the diagnosis of melatonin under- and overproduction. Melatonin is primarily known as a sleep hormone. However, as the endocrine research reveals, melatonin regulates all aspects of human physiology: day-night cycle, immune function, hormone release, muscle growth, and reproduction are some of the many physiological properties that melatonin regulates. Underproduction of melatonin is primarily associated with insomnia. However, melatonin also plays an essential role in neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease), psychological disorders (depression and schizophrenia) and fibromyalgia. Melatonin acts antiproliferative on inflammations, reduces reactive oxygen species and has oncostatic properties.
Our innovative approach solves the problems of the current melatonin measurements. Providing a faster, cheaper and a more versatile method, is our core motivation.

For our project we got a Gold medal as well as a nomination for the Best Hardware for our Spectrometer and LSPR device.

Key achievements

✔ Developed a concept for a novel biological and cell-free melatonin biosensor
✔ Modified the DNA binding site of a melatonin sensitive transcription receptor
✔ Expressed the melatonin sensitive receptor in Escherichia coli
✔ Modeled our cell and cell-free approaches precisely
✔ Built first iGEM ever spectrometer with a resolution of 4 nm
✔ Successfully hosted a biotechnology conference in collaboration with iGME Utrecht

Human Practices

To bring our project forward, we integrated feedback from experts of different backgrounds in our project. Therefore, we engaged in dialogues with medical and engineering professionals, as well as discussed the rights of melatonin deficiency treatments with the Medicines Evaluation Board.

Besides, involving youth with synthetic biology was a part of our human practice. We cooperated with Germany's greatest scientific student competition "Jugend Forscht", the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and a school.
Collaborations and meetups enabled us to unite internationally.

We also took part in the international March for Science to demonstrate for free accessibility of scientific research, met Emmanuelle Charpentier and by radio, we raised awareness for melatonin-related diseases.

Learn more about our public engagement.


During the last five months, the team experienced a new style of "life", we updated our biosafety level and got a new first home. In the laboratory, gloves and tips, western blots and electrophoresis gels, were part of our new daily routine. We thought, worked and lived together. Get to know our lab successes and failures in this chronologic weekly overview.


For detection of melatonin in saliva, we decided to use LSPR. For this a spectrometer was built, so we are able to see changes in the refraction index, due to fine changes in the composition of the medium. LSPR makes our sensor a very sensitive device, while a gold nano structure with the binding domain of RZR with streptavidin and biotin is responsible for the high selectivity.
As most of the components of our hardware can be used multiple times, the sensor is very cost efficient.
To learn more about our hardware project, please take a look at our Hardware page