Promoting microbiology education through the iGEM synthetic biology competition

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2015 Aug;362(16):fnv129. doi: 10.1093/femsle/fnv129. Epub 2015 Aug 9.


Synthetic biology has developed rapidly in the 21st century. It covers a range of scientific disciplines that incorporate principles from engineering to take advantage of and improve biological systems, often applied to specific problems. Methods important in this subject area include the systematic design and testing of biological systems and, here, we describe how synthetic biology projects frequently develop microbiology skills and education. Synthetic biology research has huge potential in biotechnology and medicine, which brings important ethical and moral issues to address, offering learning opportunities about the wider impact of microbiological research. Synthetic biology projects have developed into wide-ranging training and educational experiences through iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition. Elements of the competition are judged against specific criteria and teams can win medals and prizes across several categories. Collaboration is an important element of iGEM, and all DNA constructs synthesized by iGEM teams are made available to all researchers through the Registry for Standard Biological Parts. An overview of microbiological developments in the iGEM competition is provided. This review is targeted at educators that focus on microbiology and synthetic biology, but will also be of value to undergraduate and postgraduate students with an interest in this exciting subject area.

Keywords: bioethics; biotechnology; iGEM; microbiology education; synthetic biology; transferable skills.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotechnology / education
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Humans
  • Microbiology / education*
  • Research Personnel
  • Students
  • Synthetic Biology / education*