Synthetic Biology StackExchange

Ask your questions on StackExchange!

This year the Engineering Committee is encouraging the use of StackExchange to better answer questions, facilitate more collaboration between teams and engage the wider SynBio community. Stack exchange is a network of sites for technical Q&A where anyone can ask and receive expert responses to their questions.

If you have questions about designing genetic constructs, building your strains, interpreting your data, or anything else related to the biological side of your project, you can ask them there. Or, if you want to share your expertise, you can help others out by answering their questions.

To start asking questions:

  1. Visit ⇗
  2. Sign up for a stackexchange account
  3. Complete the tour ( ⇗)
  4. Ask your question!

If your question is SynBio related, tag it with #synthetic-biology so that people who are experts can see it. If your question is related to SBOL, or a question that is more focussed on the computational side of SynBio, it might be better asked in the Bioinformatics StackExchange ( ⇗).

If you need any help using StackExchange (we know it can be a little intimidating at first!), you can contact us using the email synbiose [AT] igem [DOT] org or on the #stackexchange channel in the iGEM global slack workspace.

Who are our experts?

Our team of experts consists of researchers from various backgrounds, such as bioinformatics, molecular biology, and computer engineering. Below, we have listed some of our experts.

Jacob Beal

Stack Exchange username: jakebeal

Affiliation: iGEM Engineering Committee; Raytheon BBN Technologies
Fields of expertise: bioinformatics, using plate readers, electrical and/or computer engineering, mathematics, modeling, flow cytometry, unit calibration

Gael Chambonnier

Stack Exchange username: GaelC

Affiliation: iGEM Engineering Committee; MIT BE
Fields of expertise: PCR, Gibson Assembly, CRISPR/Cas

Traci Haddock-Angelli

Stack Exchange username: Traci

Affiliation: iGEM HQ
Fields of expertise: PCR, Golden Gate Assembly, transformation (E. coli)

Alejandro Vignoni

Stack Exchange username: Alejandro Vignoni

Affiliation: iGEM Engineering Committee; Universitat Politecnica de Valencia
Fields of expertise: bioinformatics, computational biology, PCR, Golgen Gate Assembly, Gibson Assembly, using plate readers, biophysics, electrical and/or computer engineering, mathematics, modelling

More details/FAQ

Why is what we currently do not enough?

In Synthetic Biology, we largely have an apprenticeship model for learning (e.g. learning how to do your first PCR from the Postdoc in your lab). In addition, the answers to specialised questions are normally only accessible to the limited number of people. This might be the people at a certain talk/conference, or in extreme cases just the singular recipient of an email.

Although this works relatively well, there are significant downsides, including:

  • Inequality/inclusiveness - It reinforces existing power structures, as there will be a large disparity between help and resources available for different people, and there often aren’t enough experts to help everyone
  • Siloed knowledge - It is difficult to find specialised, or even basic, knowledge without having to read detailed papers or contact specialists
  • Proliferation of incorrect/suboptimal knowledge - People may be stuck in ‘local minima’, doing what they were told was the best way without having been given a range of responses. We “don’t know what we don’t know”
  • Repetition - Supervisors/mentors end up repeating themselves to trainees, experts end up being asked the same questions over and over.

What is a Q&A site, and how can it help?

A Q&A site is exactly what it sounds like, a website where anyone can ask questions about Synthetic Biology and anyone can respond. Better questions and answers are upvoted so that the questioner, and anyone else viewing the question in the future, knows what the community thinks is a good response.

It complements our existing system of apprenticeship, addressing the downsides mentioned above:

  • Inclusivity/equality - Anyone and everyone has access to the site, and knowledge contained within
  • Siloed knowledge - The site can serve as a reference as well as allowing people to ask questions from experts in a more neutral environment
  • Proliferation of incorrect/suboptimal knowledge - There can be more than one answer to a question
  • Repetition - People with questions can see previous answers to questions that they might have, and responders don’t have to repeat themselves

What is StackExchange, and what makes it different from ResearchGate/Quora/Reddit?

Stack Exchange is a network of question-and-answer (Q&A) websites. It began with StackOverflow, which provides well-curated answers for programming questions, but now the network provides a great one-stop-shop for lots of other communities as well, from maths, physics, and chemistry to travel, cooking, and personal finance.

The main features of StackExchange are:

  1. Reputation - Questions, answers, and users are subject to a reputation award process.
  2. Q&A only - Unlike Reddit, and similar sites, StackExchange discourages discussion, instead focussing on asking clear questions and receiving good-quality responses.
  3. Self-moderating - The reputation system allows sites to be self-moderating.
  4. Comments and edits - Asking/answering questions is seen as a collaborative exercise. Other users can suggest improvements to questions/answers and even edit them to make them clearer or to add more information.