Human Practices

14. Hamburger Studierendentagung: An Introduction to iGEM a project featured by the UHH

StudTag This year iGEM Hamburg attended the Life Science student convention in Hamburg to promote iGEM and science by students in general. For starters retired professor Uli Hahn held an impulse talk about his career and the potential possibilities awaiting us. From about 300 attendees 50 students held a short talk about the results their recent graduation work. A lot of interesting topics were covered and discussed in detail in the following poster presentation. Among them were novel results in the fields of bone formation leading to clues in osteoporosis research, and MRT imaging based on doppler ultrasound technology with impressive live imaging of a fetal heart. We presented iGEM and how it is applied at the university of Hamburg including a short introduction about this year’s topic, multi resistant bacteria and a gallium-trojan-horse-strategy. During the breaks life science and medical companies and organizations had the opportunity to present themselves among some coffee and snacks which lead to an enjoyable overall atmosphere. To conclude the event Katharina Fegebank, our secondary major and senator for science and equality, congratulated the students for their presentations. Before she could leave we were able to have a couple of words with her about a possibility to support iGEM in Hamburg and how to potentially involve students from universities from all over Hamburg.

EU Meetup Delft

To begin with it was great! And I recommend the attendance on regional meetups for every iGEM Team that has the possibility to do so. Sadly, only a small part of our team could participate since we had to cover 100% of the costs by ourselves. However, we were still able to send one member of any division that we have, so Martin (Chemistry), Sören (Nanoscientist) and me Shanti (Molecular Life Sciences and Teamleader) faced an adventurous trip to the beautiful city of Delft.

Flight And boy adventurous it was. Starting with the selection of a decent route and to find the correct mean of transportation. After a couple of hours, we thought that we were ready to go, but man what did we know? So, our chosen route was to fly to Brussels from Hamburg and take a bus from there to elft, it should be cheap and fast and nice.

Well the flight was; however, we could not take the bus we wanted had chosen and had to go by train to Delft. Next, we found out that the travelling system in Belgium and the Netherlands differs majorly from German standards and that we had to pay waaaay more than expected. Well at least for me hence I am old, at least that is what I was told. But the weather was nice and we arrived in Delft ahead of schedule.

Lunch Shortly after our arrival we decided to explore the beautiful city in an attempt to find our hostel. First, we wandered around somewhat clueless, showing of our map reading skills, but then changed to more modern methods of navigation. Which was a good idea because we were actually lost beforehand. We could find our hostel quite easily utilizing google maps, but it was still closed so we decided to have lunch and contact our host team in Delft to meet them in advance of the planned dinner in the evening. After getting lost again, or let’s say some more exploring, we could find the TU Delft and meet the iGEM team of Delft. They briefly introduced us into their campus and we had an interesting talk about each other projects. As it turned out, we were trying to tackle the same problem from different angles, Delft wanted to invent a crispr-casper utilizing detection method for multiresistant bacteria that then could be utilized in stockbreeding. And we tried to invent the cure. As we split up again, our hostel had finally open and we met more iGEMers as it turned out the whole hostel was almost exclusively booked by other iGEM teams.

In the evening we went to the royal palace a nice Asian restaurant to meet with all our fellow iGEMers that arrived a day earlier. On a side note, I misread the email informing us about the restaurant and genuinely thought that we were invited into THE royal palace in Delft, well we did not meet any royals, but we had a royal feast!

Fio On the next morning the Meetup started, after grabbing our welcome bags and introducing ourselves to a couple of more teams, Fiona, Delfts team leader introduced the schedule and the scientific talks started. I really enjoyed the first talk by Dr. Cees Dekker about nanotechlogy how it is connected to biotechnology and a short iGEM history lesson, at least from Delft. But it certainly inspired me to proceed to promote iGEM at my home university where the competition is still fairly new.

Afterwards we had the opportunity to get to know the film team from Evry who asked me to do an interview for them. After a short coffee break the scientific talks proceeded, sadly I was quite preoccupied with events unfolding at my hometown Hamburg. As we enjoyed our time in Delft more and more footage arrived from Hamburg, depicting Hamburg in flames. What happened? G20 happened. For the next 2 days more and more footage arrived showing protesters clashing violently with the police, which reacted with more and more force. A spiral of violence, so I was thinking about all my friends and family that was still there.

Gladly distraction came quickly! First, we had lunch and then after all the talks ended we proceeded with the poster presentation. And this is where the real awesomeness started, to hear about all the cool projects that young aspiring scientist, like me, had thought about and were putting all their time and effort into were a real blast. Plus, I had to explain our own project repeatedly while we received a lot of valuable feedback.

After all the serious stuff was done it was time for socializing, we had an amazing barbeque and a whole lot of beer and good conversations. To conclude the evening, we went on to explore the Delft nightlife, and what happens in Delft stays in Delft.


iGEM Team – An interdisciplinarity check up! with Mirjam Brassler


The iGEM team consists of students from a huge range of academic disciplines: Biology, Chemistry, Education, Psychology, Nanoscience, Molecular Life Sciences, Communication Studies, and Information technology. In order to achieve a holistic understanding and find solutions to complex issues, interdisciplinarity is highly needed. However, interdisciplinary teamwork exhibits a large potential for conflicts and in practice most collaborations fail. As usual, also the interdisciplinary iGEM team experience difficulties in communication, inappropriate expectations, and underestimation of collaborative work. The interdisciplinary checkup dressed these issues with an introduction into recent findings of research regarding interdisciplinarity, deriving strategies for an effective interdisciplinary teamwork and exercises in interdisciplinary communication and reflection of the interdisciplinary teamwork in iGEM.

To sum up, it is important to repeatedly find common ground in aims, visions and actual teamwork to reach a shared understanding. It is crucial to invest time. One should be aware of additional work that comes with interdisciplinary collaboration. In different professional languages and terminologies, identical words can have various meanings. Consequently, one should adapt professional languages, use colloquial speech and reduce speed. One major requirement of successful interdisciplinary teamwork on SD is self-study to enhance ones’ understanding of the other disciplines’ way of thinking and methods. While working in an interdisciplinary team the share of knowledge is crucial for success. This includes knowledge regarding non-disciplinary insights to sustainability, discipline-based knowledge on sustainability as well as practical skills and experiences. Moreover, having a good relationship is key to prevent conflicts. It is important to take a step back and to reflect the interdisciplinary team process, especially during discussions. Furthermore, one should differentiate between the person and the discipline in conflicts and in the design of tasks and roles. No one likes to be judged by ones affiliation and consequently related stereotypes of disciplines. Finally, one can deploy a professional moderator.

Study Career Day at the SDS am Heidberg school

During our initial lab phase I had the possibility to speak to promising pupils at the SDS am Heidberg, a local high school, about studying life sciences and studying in general. After a brief introduction into what studying means and how it will impact your general life, moving from home, financing your own life, how lectures are designed, how many internships are included. To conclude my talks, I presented some of my favorite parts of university life of course featuring iGEM.

As someone who is involved in many different activities in our university I can safely say that iGEM is one of the if not the most rewarding course you can participate in if you are interested in MINT at our university. Therefore, I recommended iGEM and similar scientific projects to the young adults before me. While I was introducing our current project, many of them asked questions about studying and science in general. I spoke to some teachers as well, however it will take a long time to establish iGEM in German high schools, if that ever happens, the financial burden and distance might still be too steep to make it a viable option for many schools and universities alike.

An general introduction about synthetic biology by Prof. Ignatova

with three core questions: what is synthetic biology? where does it come from? how can we use it to shape a better future?

In the year 1980 the term of synthetic biology were conceived by Barbara Hobom for genetically engineered bacteria, who were modified using recombinant DNA technology. In 2000, the term 'synthetic biology' was again introduced by Eric Kool to describe the synthesis of unnatural organic molecules that function in living systems.

One of the mayor advances has been the upgrade of sequencing technologies which allows first attempts to simulate synthetic life.

Other parts of the introduction were approaches developed by Georg Church, Craig Venter, as well as , the metabolic „frustration“ and systems biology that was coming to help with this problem in science.

One of the most famous examples of genetic engineering is the production of Insulin in E. coli.

Subfields of synthetic biology are DNA-based biocircuits, Minimal genomes and Protocells.

Another important aspect of synthetic biology is biosafety. Assessing the risks of products, functions, or systems is necessary.

Nediljko Budisa

We invited Nediljko Budisa to speak about „synthetic biology of the genetic code engineering“ for us as well as the public. Nediljko Budisa is scientist at the institute of technology TU Berlin (

He gave an introduction to methods for genetic code expansion: state of the art, problems, solutions, and future prospects.

He likes to view a synthetic biologist as an engineer, treating all of the concepts and research are part of minimal organisms or minimal cells with „programmable“ parts. He predicts the possibility of building complete biological machines in about 20 years (a little forecast of the future).

He introduced us to his work on the process to go from gene to synthetic protein, employing more than just the 20 canonical amino acids, introducing new artificial amino acids and thereby extending the genetic code. Furthermore he explained the co- and post-translational modifications and general issues of protein engineering with non-canonical amino acids.

iGEM Team Hamburg at the Dies Academicus

Vice President of the University of Hamburg Prof. Dr. Rupp (in the middle)with Geoffrey and Alina at the Dies Academicus in front of our posters

The Dies Academicus is a biannual event at the University of Hamburg. This year’s topic was “Responsibility for democracy – study reform in an unsettling time”. Within the new “General studies” we presented our new course “Synthetic Biology” which provides the framework for our participation at the iGEM contest.

We did not only present iGEM and our project „Resistant Germs and How to fight them“ in front of a public audience but we also had the chance to meet and talk to Prof. Dr. Rupp, the Vice President of the University of Hamburg. We could spark her interest and enthusiasm for our project and are very excited about her visit in our labs later.

Apart from being able to present our project to a wider audience we got a lot of valuable tips and information how to attract supporters and interested students.

„Lehramtsveranstaltung“ – Event for education majors

Taking part in the iGEM contest is an opportunity for a direct learning experience that differs greatly from classic lectures, seminars or even practical courses. In the beginning, everyone is brainstorming together to decide on a topic to work on and how to execute the idea which is later on brought to the lab.

This is precisely the goal teachers have in mind for their students: they do not only transmit their knowledge but also encourage them to share and explain their know-how with others. This is of importance to deepen one’s knowledge and to gain a new perspective through sharing with others, but most significantly to be able to make progress together.

In science, this skill is especially important as exchange is fundamental for research. Today we live in a time where no one can survive on its own anymore and the ability to work in a team and to share knowledge is essential. While it is possible to find knowledge in books and perform experiments one’s own, it is easier and often much more effective to ask experts in their field. Therefore, we talked to the represents of the education majors at our university about the possibility to discuss this topic together. In this group, we worked out a presentation about our project and the concept behind it that we held in front of interested education students. Our goal was to find out if there are ways to improve our project. There was a great general interest in our project and the concept and how we handle this teaching-learning-situation. Their response was very positive and the consensus that university and school should push these sorts of learning experience more.

CeBIT 2017

The study trip of our team to the largest and most internationally representative computer expo

This year iGEM Hamburg attended the CeBIT expo in Hannover to establish contacts for possible collaborations with our project. We were invited to attend by the Haspa, a german savings bank.

More than 200.000 people attended more than 2000 exhibition booths presenting their technological advances, machines and instruments, concentrating on digitalization and robotics. One of the main topics covered was d!conomy, which was focusing on digital security, communication & networks, also showing developments in consumer electronics as well as data analytics & AI.

Also research and innovation were centred around d!tec, exhibiting new technologies in future mobility, like exoskeletons and drones, also concentrating on AI robotics and virtual reality. We also found a booth with microbiologists, who developed electronic devices to facilitate gene decoding of up to 24 samples at the same time. Scale11, as a part of d!tec gave multiple new and fresh kickstarter projects the opportunity and platform to present themselves and their project to a broad spectrum of people.

During multiple podium discussions of d!talk, many pioneers and unconventional thinkers from all over the world featured the themes of digital trends in a compact, captivating program.

Another part of the CeBIT was the d!campus, where emotion meets technology. It features a platform for getting together and networking, as well as a stage for experiences and showcases.

Before it was time to leave we were able to have a couple of words with her about a possibility to support iGEM in Hamburg and how to potentially mingle the aims of their projects with ours.

Lectuere series about antibiotic resistances

The importance of antibiotic resistances was also emphasised by the Chemistry Department of our university that organised a lecture series about this topic. During the previous semester, everyone interested was invited to listen to lectures which focused on different aspects of antibiotic resistances on a weekly basis.

Of course we used this chance to pick up some background information and new ideas, get in touch with scientists working in this field and hit them with questions related to our project.

This was the first time we met Prof. Dr. Peter Heisig and his wife Dr. Anke Heisig who later became our instructors when they gave a general introduction to resistance mechanisms and a lecture on next generation sequencing.

But they were not the only people we met there who provided us with further information and help: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Streit gave a talk about Pseudomonas aeroginosa which is our target organism, Prof. Dr. Holger Rohde, settled at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf helped us with finding testing strains and Prof. Dr. Daniel Wilson discussed the general concepts of antibiotic development with us.