Open Track

The Open Track is designed for any team who wants to participate in iGEM and work on a synthetic biology project but who may not fit in any of the other Track topics.

For example, are you exploring a project with a strong focus on Human Practices, policy, safety, or entrepreneurship? Are you really focused on developing measurement protocols or using art as a way to explore synthetic biology? Are you doing something completely different that does not fit in any other track? Then this may be the right track for your team!

Below are some example projects with a focus on Measurement and Art & Design.

Examples of Measurement-Based Projects

Measurement is a critical challenge that is receiving an increasing amount of attention each year. For example, one of the long-standing goals of both iGEM and synthetic biology at large, is to characterize biological parts, so that they can be more easily used for designing new systems. Teams in the iGEM Open Track can tackle these sort of problems, whether they are about applying known techniques to parts not yet quantified or developing new or better methods for quantifying important biological phenomena.

William and Mary 2015


As synthetic biologists continue to construct increasingly complex gene regulatory networks, the need for accurate quantitative characterization of their regulatory components becomes more pressing. Despite the BioBrick registry's thorough characterization of the average strength of promoters, there is insufficient description of the variability in their expression. iGEM William & Mary's project aims to characterize this variability, or noise, for the most commonly used promoters in synthetic biology and provide additional tools for the regulation of these promoters.

Aachen 2014

Cellock Holmes - A Case of Identity

Cellock Holmes is a 2D biosensing technology with which can detect bacteria on solid surfaces, devised to overcome the drawbacks of existing techniques and aims for a faster, inexpensive, open source, mobile and an easy to handle detection method. iGEM Aachen demonstrated the proof-of-concept for Cellock Holmes by detecting Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a gram-negative prokaryote that infects patients with open wounds and burns as well as immunodeficient people. P. aeruginosa cells use quorum sensing to communicate with each other by secreting autoinducers into their environment. Using a Synthetic Biology (SynBio) approach, they engineered sensor cells, so-called Cellocks, that are able to detect the native autoinducer of P. aeruginosa and elicit a distinct fluorescence signal. Wwith a modular composition of a genetic device or an alternative approach using Galectin-3, it is also possible to engineer Cellocks to detect other bacteria. Hand in hand with the biological side of our project, the team built the WatsOn measurement device able to read and analyze the fluorescent signal emitted by the 2D biosensor, and an OD/F Device designed to measure optical density and fluorescence of a liquid sample in cuvettes, both designed in accordance with the Open Source principle and with all technical details as well as construction manuals published online.

Examples of Art and Design-Based Projects

Since 2009, a number of teams have begun working closely with artists and designers to bring artistic inquiry and experimental and critical design to their projects. Artists and designers bring a unique sensibility to these lines of inquiry. They are well suited to identify and provocatively communicate the broad societal issues surrounding emerging biotechnology. Teams who wish to explore art and design as a major focus of their project are invited to join the Open Track.

Art and design teams made up of different permutations of students from different disciplines have contributed greatly to iGEM. They have added significantly to the Registry with new BioBricks. They have innovated in Human Practices by imagining the future implications of synthetic biology. They have also found novel ways to communicate synthetic biology and its potential to the public.

Teams made solely of art and design students have made great strides at iGEM. ArtScienceBangalore 2011 won iGEM Best Human Practices Advance. They also won Honorary Mention at the International Prix Ars Electronica 2012, an important accolade in the art world. Two years earlier, ArtScienceBangalore 2009 created a BioBrick that produced the ‘smell of rain’ and won Best Presentation at iGEM.

On the other end of the spectrum, teams made solely of science and engineering students have made contributions to art and design practice, such as Harvard iGEM 2010 ‘iGarden’ and Cornell 2012. Meanwhile, teams made up of a combination of students from both the arts and sciences have had huge impacts on iGEM. University of Cambridge 2009, for example, won the Grand Prize, and Imperial College 2011 was the First Runner Up.