Bioengineering students from around the world converged on MIT this weekend in what has become an annual ritual in synthetic biology--iGEM, the international genetically engineered machines competition. Among the finalists this year were "GluColi", a new generation of glue made by bacteria, a biological version of an LCD screen made of yeast, and multicolored menagerie of bacteria that might ultimately become part of a biological system designed to change color in response to toxins or other target compounds, providing an easy-to-read warning system.
By combining snippets of DNA, dubbed biological "parts", students build microbes designed to performuseful functions, such as producing medicines or detecting toxins. Each year "parts" built for the competition are entered into a biological library, so that next year's teams can use them to build even more sophisticated machines. As iGEM co-founder and MIT bioengineer Tom Knight explained in a previous piece, "The key idea here is to develop a library of composable parts which we think of in the same way as Lego blocks. These parts can be assembled into more-complex pieces, which in many cases are functional when inserted into living cells."