JNU set to host competition on bioengineering

The first of its kind event in India is called iBEC which stands for Indian Biological Engineering Competition. The winning team will travel to participate in iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) to be held at Boston

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New Delhi: The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under Ministry of Science and Technology along with School of Biotechnology at Jawaharlal Nehru University are organizing the first national competition in synthetic biology. This new initiative which is called iBEC (Indian Biological Engineering Competition) will be held on 2nd May, 2016 at the JNU campus.

This year the key feature of this event will be an Indian iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) that will serve as a precursor to the global iGEM event at MIT in October, 2016.  From the next year (2017 onwards), the event will have two tracks, an Indian competition and a pre iGEM as well.

As per organizers, the mission of iBEC is to build up standard biomolecular registry and construction foundry. Besides generating socially useful applications in health, energy, environment, the competition aims to create awareness, develop capacity and build network.

Registration details regarding participating in the pre iGEM / iBEC competition are available at http://www.syntheticbiology.in Teams are being invited to propose designs based on pre-existing iGEM parts. The concepts may be received from undergraduate and postgraduate students with a Faculty Mentor from the same Institution. Though not mandatory, ideally the team should be formed of students affiliated to only one institute.

Knowing iGEM and what drove Indian participation

Now let us first understand what iGEM is and who runs it. The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to education and competition, the advancement of synthetic biology, and the development of an open community and collaboration. The iGEM runs three main programs that includes iGEM Competition – an international competition for students interested in the field of synthetic biology. It also has Labs Program – a program for academic labs to use the same resources as the competition teams and Registry of Standard Biological Parts – a growing collection of genetic parts use for building biological devices and systems.

Therefore, to ensure regular iGEM participation of students from India, the DBT announced this new pre iGEM competition. Winners of this competition will be financially supported towards participation in the global iGEM event at Boston.  The support offered to the team includes the maximum Rs 10 lakh per team (towards Registration, Travel and Consumables to prepare the project for iGEM).

Dates to remember
March 01, 2016                Call for proposals
April 01, 2016                   Last date for proposals 
April 15, 2016                   Last date for e-review
April 20, 2016                   Finalists informed
May 02, 2016                    iBEC   [JNU, New Delhi]
​October 27-31, 2016        iGEM, Boston

Any specific queries in this regard would be addressed by Dr Pawan K. Dhar, Professor, Synthetic Biology, School of Biotechnology, JNU. Email:  [email protected] and Dr Sangita Kasture, Joint Director, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology. Email: [email protected]

The emerging Indian synthetic biology community is beginning to make its impact. In future, more successes will appear at the foundation and application levels. The need of the hour is to organize generate ideas and opportunities through outreach programs to develop novel ideas and applications.

DNA RNABrief timeline of Synthetic Biology events organized in India so far:

2010: Biodesign India – The 1st Synthetic Biology conference in India, University of Kerala
2012: One day Synthetic Biology symposium held at JNU
2014: Indo US conference in Synthetic and Systems Biology, JNU (DBT & NSF Funded)

Synthetic biology is a new scientific discipline that deals with engineering biomolecular systems, from design to manufacturing. The broad goal of the community is computer aided design of biological systems based on standards, rules of composition leading to useful applications.

Synthetic biology is a rational and ground-up construction of biomolecular parts, modules and networks. The construction may be in the native or a non-native setting. The former refers to the redesign of existing pathways and the latter refers to the science of relocating pathways across organisms.  Though the term was proposed 1970s, it was formally reintroduced in June 2004 at MIT where the first conference of synthetic biology was held.

What makes Synthetic biology different? 

  • The design and manufacture of organisms from parts inventory is new to the biological community.
  • Genome-wide data sheet of every part, device and circuit does not exist.
  • The rules of composing an organism are unknown.
  • We are nowhere close to the standard engineering process of taking a computer model to the manufacturing of an organism.