Aim of the partnership with iGEM Marburg

Teams in iGEM working with phototrophic organisms were always underrepresented. Our vision was to create a community that supports future iGEM-Teams who plan to work with phototrophic organisms, to start a dialogue with further teams, to help and learn from each other. Our goal was to create a sustainable community that not only stands behind new teams but also creates a shared collection of knowledge in the form of our Phototrophs-Handbook over the years.

In our partnership with iGEM Marburg, we set the basis for such a community and created a handbook in cooperation with further iGEM teams. This way we will be able to help future iGEMers, but also scientists beyond iGEM, working with phototrophic organisms from all around the world.


Wiki Tour

  • Besides establishing a phototrophs community to help other iGEMers with their plant-related questions, I also helped educating people about biology with "Ask Nici"!

The Partnership

The Phototrophs-Community was founded by the iGEM Teams Marburg and Bielefeld in 2021. After communicating and discussing our ideas on how to build a global community, we started a strong partnership to realize our vision.

We contacted the teams of our iGEM-year that worked with phototrophic organisms and asked them to join our community. At the same time, we set up a Slack-Workspace to provide a platform free of charge for communication and organization.

We engaged 12 teams from all around the world in our community. For our phototroph’s community, we organized, together with iGEM Marburg, a series of online Meetups. There, we not only gave the community the opportunity to meet ‘face to face’, but also to get into contact with several speakers and experts who we invited for talks and discussion rounds.

Part of our vision was a sustainable handbook to which every team from our community contributes its knowledge to. Thereby, the Phototrophs-Handbook will be a further growing collection of knowledge, protocols, and information. In following years new iGEM teams can join the community, add their knowledge and gained experience and help to keep the handbook growing.

The goal of our partnership was to leave with our community and handbook a legacy behind that future generations can build upon.

The Slack Workspace

The Phototrophs Workspace on Slack is the heart of our community, a place to communicate ideas, ask questions and get help. New iGEM-Teams are supposed to not to feel alone with their phototrophs project as well as being able to receive help when needed, since there were always just few iGEM teams working with those organisms.

The teams of new iGEM years can connect to each other using the workspace. Furthermore, they can also profit from the experience of the past teams regarding project management and execution of a project with phototrophic organisms.

We created several channels to manage the workspace, including different discussion rounds, troubleshooting channels and off-topics to form a sense of community in the times of pandemic. We also involved the experts who we invited as speakers to our meetups, to join the Workspace and share their expertise when teams struggle and seek help.

After the first year of the Phototrophs-Community 14 teams and 85 members including Marburg and Bielefeld are part of the workspace.

iGEM Phototroph Meetups

Together with iGEM Marburg, we organized monthly online conferences with interesting expert talks, discussions, workshops and troubleshooting sessions to tackle together the problems each team is facing. We also gave the opportunity to meet other iGEMers after the sessions, play games and have fun - a welcome opportunity in an iGEM year still affected by COVID-19.


In June, we hosted our Kickoff-Meetup. We introduced the participants to our community and vision and the iGEM alumni winner of Best Plant Project 2019, iGEM Kaiserslautern, shared their project with the community and gave important advice on a successful plant project. The talks of Prof. Ilka Axmann (Heinrich Heine University) about “Cyanobacteria: A modular platform for sustainable photoproduction” and Prof. Jennifer Brophy (Stanford University) about synthetic root growth gave the participants fascinating new insights in the world of phototrophic organisms. In a followed troubleshooting sessions with different experts for each organism the teams of our community are working with (Cyanobacteria, Higher Plants and Algae), challenges were discussed, and help could be provided. As an important aspect of iGEM, the communication and exchange between the teams and their projects is essential, but complicated when meetups are hosted only online. Therefore, we gave every team the opportunity to present their projects and share their vision, but also to attend a fun game night to also engage on a personal level.

We included troubleshooting and game night sessions in every of our meetups.

Handbook Introduction

At our second meetup in July, we further introduced the handbook. We also held a webinar on cloning methods by René Inckemann (University of Marburg) and talks by Alejandra Schiavon Osorio (University of Edinburgh) about “CyanoGate: A Golden Gate modular cloning suite for engineering cyanobacteria based on the plant MoClo syntax” and Andreas Andreou (University of Edinburgh) about the Mobius Assembly.

Phototrophic Organisms Problems

In our third meetup in August, we invited Prof. Julie Zedler (Friedrich-Schiller-University) who talked about the problems she encountered when working with Cyanobacteria and had a great discussion on challenges when working with phototrophic organisms. Discussed challenges were transformation, cultivation and cloning.

Make the World a better Place

In our final meetup in September, we talked about how we as iGEM teams, but also as researchers can contribute to make the world a better place for future generations. Topics were the chances of synthetic biology as well as its risks and the responsibilities reasearchers have.


Every sessions was recorded and uploaded on YouTube for members who could not attend the meetup and to enable research without additional barriers so that everyone can benefit from our partnership.


The Handbook

The reason why we struggled in the beginning working on a plant project was due to several challenges: less knowledge about synthetic biology in plants and its complexity, combined with a slow growth when compared to bacteria. We think that these are reasons for many teams to decide against projects with phototrophic organisms. To tackle this problem, we created the Phototrophs-Handbook - an ever-growing collection of knowledge, protocols and information.

We collaborated with further iGEM team of our phototrophs community who participated in the creation of the handbook and submitted chapters of their expertise. Finally we had the opportunity to finally meet our partnership-partners of the iGEM team Marburg in person. At this weekend we wrote our texts and integrated the chapter from the other iGEM teams.

The chapters which we wrote and contributed to the handbook are as followed:

• the cloning strategy “Mobius Assembly” that helped us a lot when other cloning strategies failed

• “Indirect transformation methods” for higher plants

• “Growth and Cultivation” of higher plants

• our gained experience and knowledge how to properly organize a plant project.

Read here more about the Phototrophs Handbook and why it will change the plant-community within and outside of the iGEM-community forever.

The Badges

To give the participating teams the opportunity to display their extra efforts, achieved within our phototrophs community, we designed four different badges.

The four badges are Community, Handbook, Presentation and Organization. The Community-badge marks a team as a member of the Phototrophs-Workspace. The Handbook-badge honors teams that helped write the Handbook, hence increasing the community’s knowledge. The Presentation-badge awards teams that presented their project or their human practice in a meetup and helped form a deeper community. The last badge is the Organization-badge and indicates a team’s involvement in the organization of our meetups. Creation and responsibility for the workspace and organization and creation of the Handbook was performed by Marburg and Bielefeld.

The Future

In the future, we plan to establish our community as a solid unit belonging to iGEM, growing every year. The organization will be handed over to each year's teams while iGEM-alumni also remain in the workspace. In this way the community´s expertise increases continuously while giving new teams the possibility to bring in new expertise.

The legacy of every team that was a member of the Phototrophs-Community will be the Handbook. It will grow each year in size with new organisms, further protocols added and outdated texts being updated. Our goal is that not only new iGEMers, but also scientists beyond iGEM and from all over the world will benefit from the collected knowledge of the handbook. We hope that someday in the future, the Handbook will evolve from being a .pdf file to becoming a whole online-lexicon in the form of a website.

If you want to know more about the handbook, you can read more about our contribution here.