Aalto-Helsinki 2020



One of the most fundamental values of iGEM is open science and collaboration. An environment which fosters dialogue and working together can accelerate progress and innovation. Many challenges can be solved easily while working together with other iGEM teams. Our most meaningful collaborations included finding common elements in our projects, such as focusing on water treatment or building a biosensor. We also joined forces on certain education and public outreach activities. After all, together we have a stronger voice.

Main Collaborations

Information on our main collaborations (Biosensor collaboration, Wastewater collaboration, the Journal initiative and the Heureka workshop) can be seen when clicking the different coloured countries in the map.

image/svg+xml A blank Map of Europe. Every country has an id which is its ISO-3116-1-ALPHA2 code in lower case. Members of the EU have a class="eu", countries in europe (which I found turkey to be but russia not) have a class="europe". Image based on a map ( by Júlio "Tintazul" Reis. made by Marian "maix" Sigler. Released under CreativeCommons Attribution ShareAlike ( testi

Nordic Ethics Workshop

In order to properly address the ethical and societal aspects of our project, we decided to host a workshop. We invited other Nordic teams that were developing biosensors and were interested in joining us to discuss our projects. In the end we had four other teams participating: UCPH Copenhagen, iGEM Stockholm, iGEM Uppsala and Trondheim NTNU. Due to the coronavirus restrictions the event was organized in zoom.

The workshop consisted of two parts. The first one focused on troubleshooting the ethical aspects and societal impact of each other's projects. The second part involved brainstorming in smaller breakout rooms.

We got excellent questions and comments about our project from the other teams. Previously, we had not given that much attention to manufacturing of our end-product, but we got good ideas on what to consider, such as selecting a reusable material or to consider whether a single- or multiple-use would be more sustainable. Below we present a brief summary of the workshop:

We started the workshop by directly troubleshooting each other’s projects in breakout rooms. All the teams had sent their project descriptions and the questions they would like the other teams to troubleshoot in advance, which really helped the troubleshooting part. We also had a chance to talk with the teams one-on-one or in a group of three, and to really focus on each other's projects and problems. This made up the first half of the workshop, since we had two of these troubleshooting sessions.

In the other half of the workshop we divided everyone into six different breakout rooms, so that we tried to get people from all teams into all the rooms. Every room had a different topic, the topics concerned genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and biosensors, for example their life-cycle, public perception and sustainability. In these breakout rooms we brainstormed about these topics and thought about how they impact our projects. The brainstorming helped us to grasp how multifaceted our project really is. Despite it being “just a biosensor” it is going to impact the lives of people, and the public is certainly going to have an opinion about. We also have to be very careful about its implementation and how we educate the people using it, as to not cause any harm to the environment or the end-users.

Wastewater Collaboration

To aid our projects, together with other teams with projects relating to water treatment or protecting water resources, we compared the wastewater treatment plants and processes across our countries. The summary can be found in the table below (Table 1). An important observation considering our projects was the fact that none of the countries utilized GMOs in any removal processes.

Table 1. Wastewater treatment plant comparisons across countries [1-8].
Country Largest pharmaceutical pollutant Largest sources of contamination Largest microbial contaminant Any new technology looking to be implemented?
Czech Republic Ibuprofen, carbamazepine Agriculture E. coli, coliform bacteria, intestinal enterococci Active carbon
Finland Ibuprofen, paracetamol Proper use of medication, hospitals E. coli, Campylobacteria, Legionella Ozonation and active carbon (research phase)
Germany Diclofenac (anti-inflammatory) Human medicinal products Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Legionella, Enterococci, E.coli, coliform bacteria Ozonation and active carbon (some are implemented)
USA Citalopram (anti-depressant agent) Agriculture E. coli, E. faecalis, E. faecium, Bacteroidales Activated carbon and UV lights (implemented)

iGEM Challenges

In addition to our main collaborations, we have participated in several iGEM-related challenges:

  • Aachen and Darmstadt – iJET: A paper plane flying across different countries showing cultural landmarks and connecting iGEM teams with each other.

  • Düsseldorf – Postcard Collaboration: Designed and sent a postcard hinting the topic of this year’s project.

  • Instagram challenges: We participated in many Instagram challenges organized by different iGEM teams, such as the Flash Mob organized by iGEM Moscow and the iGEM Stony brook's workspace challenge. The rest of the challenges can be found on our Instagram account.


Sciar is a company which offers next-generation laboratory software that helps to make laboratory work easy and reduce human errors while automating documentation. Sciar has built models based on laboratory processes and these models allow Augmented Reality (AR) software that automatically gathers information from the laboratory process and forms automatic standard documentation. The documentation is stored in a secure cloud service that can be accessed easily and makes research data available to the smallest detail without making the workflow more complicated for the lab employee.

Sciar was founded in 2018 by three students from the University of Helsinki. Their own experience from laboratory work compelled them to create tools to help scientists in every lab in academic research and in corporate R&D. They have had pilot studies with the University of Helsinki faculty of pharmacy and at Testa Center in Uppsala and are aiming to have their product launch by the end of 2020.

Our team helped Sciar with their pilot by providing protocols we planned on using. Thanks to that an important flaw was uncovered: the system was only able to read a predetermined number of samples and not create new ones during the protocol. Unfortunately, implementing these changes was quite time-consuming and we did not have the opportunity to test the glasses ourselves. We hope Sciar are able to continue with other academic pilots and eventually launch their product.


This year together with HiLife we have organized a 5-credit iGEM mentoring course for PhD students from several doctoral programs and focus areas:

  • Doctoral Programme in Wildlife Biology
  • Doctoral Programme in Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Doctoral Programme in Integrative Life Sciences
  • Doctoral Programme in Chemistry and Molecular Sciences
  • Doctoral Programme in Mathematics and Statistics
  • Doctoral Programme in Materials Research and Nanosciences
  • Doctoral Programme in Computer Science
  • Doctoral Programme in Drug Research

We thought the course could be a good opportunity for PhD students to get some experience in mentoring and maybe even tackle new problems that would not be faced during PhD studies, as well as get familiar with the field of synthetic biology.

1. Fresh water resources in Germany. (n.d.). Climatechangepost.Com. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from
2. Germs and bacteria. (n.d.). Alb Filter. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from
3. Paruch, L., Paruch, A. M., Eiken, H. G., & Sørheim, R. (2019). Faecal pollution affects abundance and diversity of aquatic microbial community in anthropo-zoogenically influenced lotic ecosystems. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 19469.
4. Recommendations for reducing micropollutants in waters. (2018). 60.
5. Rogowska, J., Cieszynska-Semenowicz, M., Ratajczyk, W., & Wolska, L. (2020). Micropollutants in treated wastewater. Ambio, 49(2), 487–503.
6. Vieno, N., Hallgren, P., Wallberg, P., & International Initiative on Water Quality. (2017). Pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment of the Baltic Sea region a status report.
7. Viikinmäki wastewater treatment plant. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2020, from
8., 2020, F. F., a s. (n.d.). Víte, jak se čistí odpadní voda a kdo nám pomáhá? Doodpadu. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from

Special thanks to HSY for all their support

Kemistintie 1, Espoo, Finland