Synthetic biology requires great hardware. Every synthetic biology experiment utilizes a variety of hardware, from liquid handling systems to centrifuges to culture machines and microscopes. The Hardware Track is an opportunity for iGEM teams to show their skills hacking mechanical, electrical, and optical systems that interface with living ones. Teams will be judged on how innovative their hardware systems are designed, fabricated, tested, and documented.
There are many areas where hardware projects can interface with synthetic biology. Here is a (non-exclusive) list of project area suggestions:
Experiment Execution. Throughput and reproducibility are key limits to what can be accomplished in synthetic biology. Any hardware that accelerates the design, test, build, and learn cycle and/or makes experimental results more reliable and reproducible will have a significant impact on synthetic biology.
Sensors. Data acquisition for synthetic biology experiments—from optical density to fluorescence measurements—require sensors. Projects based on novel sensing technologies, or innovative remixes of current sensors, are a welcome addition to the track.
Liquid Handling. We exist in the pipette era of biology. Fluidic machines—from microfluidics to liquid handling robots—can help us realize the longstanding vision of an automated biological future.
Complexity Management. Synthetic biologists constantly manage complexity, from sample tracking to running multiple parallel experiments. Great hardware can help organize and systematize without scaling up confusion.
Accessibility. Traditional hardware for synthetic biology tend to be expensive and complicated machines, creating a barrier to entry for many would-be innovators. iGEM teams in the past have met this challenge and built hardware that is affordable, easy to make, and open.
Bioreactors. Engineered organisms typically require culturing in an in vitro environment. Great hardware can help organisms grow according to experimental parameters and execute their engineered functions.
Bio-Made Hardware. Hardware can help synthetic biologists engineer biology, but biology can also be used to engineer hardware. Projects that use genetically engineered machines to create structures, mechanisms, and other devices are an exciting part of the iGEM Hardware Track.
Below are examples of projects from previous iGEM competitions that would be an excellent fit for the new Hardware Track:
- An open-source, affordable, DIY optical-density fluorimeter (Aachen 2014).
- A quad-copter made of biomaterials, including bacterial cellulose PCBs (Stanford/Brown/Spelman 2014).
- A continuous flow filter to remove heavy metals from factory waste pipes with engineered microbes (Cornell 2014).
- The “BioPad” touch-screen interface using microfluidics and e.coli (EPFL 2014).
- An olive oil quality sensor: UC Davis 2014
- Microfluidics device with intergreated electrodes: TU-Delft Leiden 2014.