The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization, that captured emerging opportunities in Synthetic Biology and dedicated itself to the advancement of the field, established the iGEM Indian League in November 2021 to be led by Shruti Sridhar, Priyannth RS, and Onkar Date, iGEM Alumni who are passionate about research and equitable education. The iGEM began in January 2003 as an independent study course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA.
The League also hosted a virtual Open Hours session recently, explaining how its activities would contribute to the development of the field of synthetic biology. The event saw participation from undergraduate students and professors interested in volunteering and contributing to this new initiative, hailing from universities such as IISER Thiruvananthapuram, MIT MAHE, BITS Pilani, VIT Bhopal, SASTRA and MIT ADT, Pune. All participants expressed that such initiatives would lead to better prospects for innovation in Synthetic Biology.
After its launch at MIT, USA, the iGEM has expanded to 402 teams with presence in more than 40 countries. Over the last 18 years, hundreds of projects were presented at the iGEM Competition, with the motto of “solving local problems with local solutions”. Over 60,000 iGEMers have developed solutions for local problems, revolutionizing their realities and assembling the bricks of the “biological revolution”.
Speaking about the initiative, Shruti Sridhar, Director, iGEM Indian League, said: “We are sincerely proud, fortunate, and thankful for being given the opportunity to head the Indian League, and we hope and look forward to attracting good participation to encourage synthetic biology. We will continue to work to make the world a more sustainable place by applying innovation in biosafety, biosecurity, and public outreach. The iGEM Leagues envisage greater regional impact of iGEM and synthetic biology. The Leagues will embrace the diversity of the iGEM Community, with different competitions taking place in different parts of the world including India. All the teams in the different worldwide leagues will develop solutions in the area of bio-tech and synthetic biology following the core values of iGEM.”
Biotechnology is one of the fastest-growing industries in India and witnessed a boom in the last five years. However, not enough is being done to harness this potential. The aim of the iGEM Indian League is to increase accessibility to education, and SynBio in particular by lowering costs. The League aims to build a self-sustaining system that targets three major strata, each with a corresponding vision: High schoolers, Undergraduates, and Educator Training.
“While a lot of biotech infrastructure and resources exist in our country, this has not “translated” into the field of Synthetic Biology. One possible reason could be that research centres in India have been working on niche problem statements in life sciences, which may include synthetic biology at a scale not significant enough to lead to a SynBio drive in the country. To rejuvenate the efforts in this space, the iGEM Foundation is launching the iGEM Indian League with the vision of improving and developing SynBio infrastructure and education in India,” added Shruti.
The iGEM Indian League will introduce students and educators to a reimagined synthetic biology ecosystem, an inclusive economy, and design thinking that will inspire them to design local solutions to local problems by “engineering” biology through SynBio.