Collaboration with Purdue Biomakers

Mentor-Mentee Relationship

To see the full feedback that we provided for the Purdue Biomakers, please visit Purdue's team Wiki!


The Iowa iGEM and Purdue Biomakers teams entered into a mentor-mentee relationship. In July 2017, we Skype called Purdue's iGEM team to discuss possible collaborations, seeking at first to find overlap between our projects. At the end of this Skype call, we quickly realized that the thing we needed help with most was actually getting some of our logistical targets off the ground. For example, we had no idea how to structure our organization (should we register as a student organization?) and we also were unfamiliar with the best training methods. How, in the start of the summer, could we bring all of our students up to speed? If we chose to create a formal course, what would be the best method to do so? Discussing these points proved crucial in navigating our first year as a team, and Purdue's shared materials and discussions helped us greatly.

Materials Received

After the initial Skype call, Purdue iGEM shared the following materials with us:

Purdue Constitution: details how Purdue's iGEM organization is structured and how roles are divided. Includes information on President, Vice President, Treasurer, Director of Club, Director of Science, Director of iGEM Team and Alumni Advisors, as well as their respective roles within the organization.

iGEM Internship Application: application form that interested members use to apply for the summer team. Includes detailed information on student eligibility requirements, time commitments, and what the internship provides. In return, it asks a series of questions that cover the applicant's interest in synthetic biology research, what sorts of projects they would propose, and what they hope to take away from the experience.

Learning Objectives for the Course: Purdue informed us that their faculty mentors offer an official synthetic biology course, while the students provide a sort of unofficial course, for new members. These are the learning objectives for the courses, which cover a High School Biology Review, How to conduct a review, Registry, team structure, systems biology, ethics, circuit design, plasmids and standard parts, genome modification, and common assays.

Public releases: Purdue Biomakers releases, which they send to people that are interested in their work and circulate through departments on campus to raise awareness.

What We Provided In Return

In return for the documents and feedback provided by Purdue, we provided feedback on their club's organization and structure, their internship application, their Learning Objectives and, most importantly, we provided information on the course that our faculty mentors are currently developing so that Purdue's faculty-taught course can modify and improve where they see fit.

To see the full feedback that we provided for the Purdue Biomakers, please visit Purdue's team Wiki!

How We Integrated Feedback and Materials

We took the materials from Purdue Biomakers and used them in numerous ways. Most notably, we used Purdue's Constitution as a starting platform for the creation of our own official, registered student organization at the University of Iowa. By formally recognizing our team as a student organization, we gained access to additional funding opportunities and fairs, etc. where we could showcase our work to the student body and raise awareness, thus generating interest from a greater number of students.

In early August, our faculty began the process to register and develop the first ever synthetic biology course at the University of Iowa (!!!). This was great news for the students on campus who, before now, had no opportunities to engage in the discipline. With Purdue's supplied Learning Objectives, the course plan was improved and structured in a manner that took their feedback into account.

From the internship application supplied by Purdue's iGEM team, we were able to take a look at our own methodologies for keeping students in the laboratory. This year, the majority of our students worked in the lab on a volunteer basis, which we learned may not be the standard for other teams. Though we had great participation despite now being able to pay all of our students, we would love to, in the future, have dedicated funds to provide summer stipends to the undergraduate team members. Ultimately, these funds would have to come from sponsors at the University of Iowa or from a partnership with industry, but we look forward to the challenge. With Purdue's application structure in place, our first attempt to fund students through competitive internships (hopefully next year) should go quite smoothly.

Take-away Points

With Purdue's insights, we were able to enact the following as a first-year iGEM team:

-Our faculty developed an official lab course in synthetic biology, the first of its kind at the University of Iowa.

-We successfully developed a Constitution for, and registered, an official student organization - again, the first in synthetic biology research at the University of Iowa.

-We brainstormed new approaches for funding our students during the summer months, and implemented new strategies to gain university and industrial support.

-We modified our own approach to training students, in an unofficial capacity, during the summer months with help from Purdue's Learning Objectives form.

-We received a valuable opportunity to work with, and learn from, a senior iGEM team.