Duke Undergraduate International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Team (2017-2018)


Rapid advances in synthetic and systems biology, metabolic and enzyme engineering and nanotechnology are having profound impacts on biotechnology and related engineering fields. The Duke Undergraduate International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Team was founded to stimulate and nurture students’ interest in science and engineering and prepare them to be future leaders in these emerging fields. iGEM works to advance the state of synthetic biology both in and out of the lab.

The past year’s team worked on a project to produce advanced chemotherapeutic drugs with engineered microbial cells, including taxol and next-generation derivatives. The team won additional grant funds from Genscript to pursue certain aspects of this project, earned a silver medal at the 2016 iGEM Competition, is likely to produce a publication, performed an evaluation of the potential societal impact of the proposed genetically engineered machine and produced a final detailed report on the significance of this approach as well as remaining challenges to the effective delivery of chemotherapy treatments in current healthcare systems.

Project Description

The 2017-2018 Bass Connections iGEM team will form additional projects to address further challenges in the areas of human health and disease and global health. Team members will use advanced synthetic biology and metabolic engineering methodologies in their proposed solutions. The technical aspects of the project will be complemented by policy components that encourage team members to think creatively about the societal landscape of synthetic biology and develop innovative tools to improve access and education. Toward this aim, the team will interface with professors in public policy and ethics to explore synthetic biology’s legal, ethical and economic impact.

iGEM projects have several key components:

  1. Implementation of the Design Build Test Cycle for synthetic biology in the lab
  2. Evaluation of the ethical and societal impacts of the project
  3. Education and dissemination through an iGEM website
  4. Local high school student outreach and team representation at the international iGEM competition held annually in the fall in Boston.

iGEM is a uniquely collaborative research experience: though advised by faculty and graduate students, it is ultimately the team of undergraduates who design the project and carry out its implementation. In addition, Duke iGEM interfaces closely with high school students from the North Carolina School of Science and Math and the Durham Academy, as well as additional local high schools with high school iGEM teams, which provides mentoring and leadership opportunities for all team members.

Anticipated Outcomes

Design and implementation of a genetically engineered machine in living cells; set of BioBricks (standardized, modular DNA segments) submitted to an international repository accessible by universities and independent labs; informational website; collaboration with schools across the U.S. resulting in a course on synthetic biology for future deployment as an online resource; assessment of societal impacts of the project and synthetic biology in general; outreach and education efforts


Spring 2017 – Fall 2017

  • Spring 2017: Planning and training for the 2017-2018 project; previous year’s team will educate new team members on the scientific foundations, economic and societal impacts and ethical and legal concerns of synthetic biology; new team members will also be educated on genetic engineering techniques and wet lab skills
  • Summer 2017: Project implementation
  • Fall 2017: Presentation at the iGEM international competition in October 2017

Team Outcomes to Date

Development of an Affordable Rapid Test for HIV Using Thermostable Griffithsin, poster presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

This Team in the News

Meet the Members of the 2017-18 Student Advisory Council

See related teams, Duke Undergraduate International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Team (2018-2019) and Duke Undergraduate International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Team (2016-2017).

Bass Connections team members leading a children's activity

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Charles Gersbach, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering*
  • Michael Lynch, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering*

/graduate Team Members

  • John Decker, Biomedical Engineering-PHD
  • Eirik Moreb, Biomedical Engineering-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Azim Dharani, Chemistry (BS)
  • Marco Hosfeld, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Thomas Luo, Biomedical Engineering (BSE), Chemistry (AB2)
  • Emma Miles, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Ian Miles
  • Parth Patel, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Adam Yaseen, Biophysics (BS)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Marbles Kids Museum