Information on COVID-19 related to conducting iGEM Projects

On this page you will find: Projects Focusing on COVID-19 and Social Distancing and Responsible Interactions.

The COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly affect 2020 iGEM projects. Some teams may even want to respond to COVID-19 using the tools of synthetic biology. Regardless of your project choice, we want to caution that this public health crisis poses some special challenges for iGEM teams. This page aims to provide guidance to help you meet those challenges carefully and creatively.

Projects Focusing on COVID-19

iGEM teams have a long tradition of addressing local and global challenges. iGEM recognizes that COVID-19 is both a global and local challenge for many in our community at this time. We are keen to help address this disease but do not want to add risk to our teams, their communities, or the world more broadly.

If you choose to work on a project addressed COVID-19, please be aware that it is a very serious topic, a serious pathogen, and may trigger strong fears or hopes in people’s minds (members of the public and iGEM judges alike!). Keep in mind:

  • For 2020 iGEM, work using the live SARS-CoV-2 virus (the causative agent of COVID-19) is prohibited. Teams should not plan to work with isolated viruses nor with environmental, animal, or human samples likely to contain it.
  • If you want to work on diagnostic, therapeutic or vaccine projects connected to this disease, you must work closely with the Safety and Security Committee. Any activities connected to diagnostics, therapeutics or vaccines for COVID-19, as well as the planned use of any fragments of the SARs-CoV-2 virus, are NOT covered by iGEM's White List and and will need to submit a check in form to get permission in advance.
  • Be honest and modest in pitching your project and its likelihood of being used. Recognize that many people are eager for hope and will want you to promise things, but an iGEM team is not equipped to scale a one-year project into a regional or national solution.

For more information on biosafety and biosecurity considerations associated with this virus, please see the pages compiled by:


Please review our policies carefully on the Safety Hub and send any questions you may have to the Safety and Security Committee at safety [AT] igem [DOT] org.

Social Distancing and Responsible Interactions

As part of integrated human practices and education efforts, many teams will reach out to members of the public or communities who might be interested in their work (e.g. patients or local residents). In the past, this has included public events, performances, consultations, interviews, and surveys, among other things. But this year, we must be extra cautious; teams will need to think carefully about any in-person interactions with people that might be affected by their projects, no matter what your project is:

  • Please think carefully before hosting public events or organizing face-to-face meetings. It is crucial to avoid contributing to the spread of COVID-19 by your actions. Teams should practice social distancing and use web-based or phone-based remote communication strategies as much as possible. In every case, follow your local and national public health guidelines.
  • Do not endanger team members or anyone else in your community. Think carefully about in-person interactions, and reconsider any plans to work directly with vulnerable populations, including those particularly susceptible to COVID-19. This includes, but is not limited to: older people (that is people over 60 years old), and those with underlying medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer).
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY If you have any doubt about how to conduct Human Practices safely and responsibly, double check with your institution and local authorities. If you are collecting data from people in a systematic way, we expect you to consult your local research ethics authority (e.g. Institutional Review Board, Research Ethics Boards), if applicable in your region.

What You Can Do:

  • Teams should shift from physically co-present interviews / focus groups /site visits, etc., to online surveys, telephone/skype interviews, the exploration of digital groups and methods. (Note that data collection from people, online or not, should still be reviewed by your institutional ethics authority, such as IRB or REB, if applicable in your region.)
  • This does NOT mean abandoning engaging with real-world issues but it may entail making better use of existing data sets, such as focusing on published surveys in more detail and widening your literature search on your topic in natural science and social science databases.
  • This is also an opportunity to discuss the challenges thrown up by real world research. The coronavirus pandemic highlights a number of common issues that responsible researchers must address. Issues such as public trust in science, how scientific interventions interface with society, how research priorities are set, transnational collaboration, and competing interpretations of statistics, may be integrated to your Human Practices work.

Please review the resources and FAQ on the Human Practices Hub and send any questions you may have to the Human Practices Committee at humanpractices [AT] igem [DOT] org.


COVID-19 Projects in iGEM - iGEM 2020 Opening Weekend Festival

YouTube | Bilibili

Doing Human Practices During a Global Pandemic - iGEM 2020 Opening Weekend Festival

YouTube | Bilibili