The 2021 iGEM competition showcases the excellent scientific cooperation between Singapore, France and in particular with the CNRS.

latest edition of iGEM

The 2021 iGEM competition showcases the excellent scientific cooperation between Singapore, France and in particular with the CNRS.  


Prestigious scientific competitions have been growing internationally over the years. They cover all kinds of scientific research fields such as AI, robotics, synthetic biology, and many others. In the synthetic biology field, the most famous competition is iGEM: the International Genetically Engineered Machine. The iGEM Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, and the development of an open, collaborative, and cooperative community. It is a worldwide synthetic biology competition initiated in 2003 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that was initially aimed at undergraduate university students. It now includes divisions for high school students, entrepreneurs, and community laboratories, as well as ‘overgraduates’. 

7,000 participants running for the iGEM Grand Prize Award

Started 19 years ago, this competition hosts 350 teams with over 45 countries participating, and more than 7,000 participants. The students are working on using biological systems to address societal issues. Originally held at MIT and in Paris in October 2022, iGEM has become a key competition in synthetic biology for the world’s top schools and universities, among which the National University of Singapore, Paul-Sabatier University (Toulouse, France) and INSA Toulouse. 

latest edition of iGEM

The latest edition of iGEM gathered over 7,000 participants. Credits: iGEM. 

iGEM is also the occasion for teams to tackle local challenges. They focus their synthetic biology projects around crucial topics such as environment, therapeutics, diagnostics, new applications, foundational advance, food & nutrition, manufacturing and software.

Team iGEM Toulouse 2021: Elixio, a sustainable project

Undergrad Grand Prize winner! 

The Toulouse iGEM Team has taken the student excellence of Toulouse and its emblem, the violet, to the international stage. Six students from Paul-Sabatier University and Toulouse National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) won first place in the iGEM competition. 
Toulouse iGEM Team 1
Toulouse iGEM Team 2

Left to right, top to bottom: Romane Ducloux, Thomas Gaudin, Margaux Haon, Maxence Holtz, Camille Pin, Manon Theys (and Violette) are the six students from Paul-Sabatier University and Toulouse National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) who won the iGEM Undergrad Grand Prize in 2021. Credits: iGEM. 

This is the first time that a French team has won the competition in the flagship Under-23 category. Supervised by researchers and doctoral students from the Toulouse Biotechnology Institute (TBI. CNRS – Toulouse National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRAE) – INSA), the Centre de Biologie Intégrative in Toulouse (CIB. CNRS – Toulouse University UPS) and the Laboratoire de Recherches en Sciences Végétales (LRSV. CNRS – Toulouse University UPS – Toulouse National Agricultural School (ENSAT), they designed the Elixio project, which consists of reproducing the fragrance of the violet using a biotechnological and therefore sustainable system. 
Ambre Jousselin
Pierre Maillard
Cédric Montanier
Denis Jallet

From left to right: Brice Enjalbert (Professor, TBI), Ambre Jousselin (Professor, CBI), Pierre Millard (Researcher, TBI), Cédric Montanier (Researcher, TBI), Denis Jallet (Researcher, TBI). They all supervised the iGEM Toulouse team, providing them with their best advice. Credits iGEM. 

Younes Bouchiba (PhD student, TBI)
Amandine Lucchin (PhD student, LRSV)
Thibault Malfoy (PhD student, TBI)

From left to right: Younes Bouchiba (PhD student, TBI), Amandine Lucchin (PhD student, LRSV), Thibault Malfoy (PhD student, TBI). The 3 PhD students followed and guided the iGEM Toulouse team during the competition. Credits iGEM.

Elixio project

The Toulouse INSA-UPS iGEM team received the Grand Prize for their Elixio project: congratulations! Credits: iGEM Toulouse Team. 

“A violet accord is very difficult to obtain naturally, so it is often reproduced using petrochemicals, explains Camille Pin, a student in a master’s degree in biotechnology at Paul-Sabatier University. We created a biotechnological system with two micro-organisms: a yeast that we worked on so that it produces the main odour of the violet and a cyanobacterium capable of photosynthesis with light and CO2. We worked all summer to get this biological, sustainable and non-polluting system ready by the end of September”. The biotechnological process developed by the Toulouse students is already of interest to the Robertet company in Grasse, for a more ecological production of the violet fragrance. 

Team iGEM NUS 2021: PRYSM, a project applied to the agricultural context

Undergrad 1st Runner Up! Winner of Best BioManufacturing Award, Best Part Collection Award and Best Wiki Award.

The highly interdisciplinary NUS iGEM PRYSM team, composed of 10 students from NUS Biomedical Engineering, Pharmaceutical Science, Life Sciences, Data Science and Analytics, Computational Biology, Applied Mathematics, won the first runner up and the best biomanufacturing award! This is the best achievement from a Singapore team. 
PRYSM research team

The PRYSM research team, composed of students from NUS. From Left to right, top to bottom: Tania, Vedant, Hung, Yilin, Sriram, Yidou, Kay Mei, Chin Wei, Linus, Andrew. Credits: iGEM. 

The team was mentored and supervised by researchers and doctoral students from the Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technological Innovation (SynCTI, synthetic biology research centre at NUS) and the College of Design and Engineering (CDE), NUS. They designed their award-winning project PRYSM (Photo Regulated Yeast for Synthetic Biology Manufacturing) as a novel means to producing the biopesticide using biotechnology combined with optogenetics, offering sustainable and environmentally friendly solution to address challenges faced by urban farming.
Chueh Loo POH
Jimmy PENG
Dao Viet LINH
Jingyun ZHANG

From left to right: Chueh Loo POH (Lead PI, Professor, NUS), Jimmy PENG (Professor, NUS), Dao Viet LINH (Research Fellow, NUS), Jingyun ZHANG (Research Fellow, NUS). They all supervised and guided the iGEM NUS team during the competition. Credits iGEM.

Cheng Kai LIM
Sheena CHAN

From left to right: Cheng Kai LIM (Lead student mentor, PhD student, NUS), Sheena CHAN (PhD student, NUS). The 2 PhD students guided the iGEM NUS team during the competition. Credits iGEM.

PRYSM biomanufacturing system takes advantage of optogenetics to interface hardware and biological systems for the precise and convenient control of 3 key functions in the engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae. First, the application of red light induces the yeast to produce and secrete the biopesticide of choice: Human beta defensin. Second, the application of blue light induces the yeast to flocculate, causing them to aggregate and sediment to allow for convenient extraction of the peptide. Third, concurrent use of red and blue light activates a nuclease-based kill switch, allow easy sterilization of extracted media, and adds an insulating layer of biosafety.

On their iGEM webpage dedicated to PRYSM, the team stated: “We chose to use Human Beta Defensin 2 (HBD2) as our primary candidate due to several reasons. Firstly, functional recombinant HBD2 has been demonstrated expressed using S.cerevisiae. However, to date, no practical application of recombinant HBD2 has been attempted. Furthermore, most works regarding antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) and HBD2 have been focused on the therapeutic field. We decided that it would be interesting to test the broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity demonstrated in medical research in the agricultural context. Lastly, HBD2 is native to the human body, rendering it extremely human-safe.”

They also consulted Vaciome, a Singaporean synbio startup specializing in AMP discovery and production, which gave them a sample of their HBD2 construct for the iGEM PRYSM project and Singrow, a Singapore vertical strawberry farm, which has helped the team to contextualise the problems in urban farms.
PRYSM logo

PRYSM logo. During the iGEM competition, every detail counts – logos included! Credits: iGEM NUS Team.

In Singapore, the CNRS IRP SynBioEco & CNRS@CREATE EcoCTs bioeconomy projects are already running

The French and Singaporean iGEM teams, respectively 1st and 2nd of the 2021 Undergraduate division, demonstrated their excellence in the synthetic biology field.

The Singaporean team is composed of students and supervisors from SynCTI and NUS Engineering.

As a matter of fact, these Singaporean and French entities already collaborate in the synthetic biology field in Singapore with two ongoing projects: SynBioEco and EcoCTs.

The CNRS International Research Project SynBioEco

The CNRS IRP SynBioEco, standing for Synthetic Biology for a Bio-inspired Economy, associating the Toulouse Biotechnology Institute, CNRS – INRAE – INSA  and the Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technological Innovation (SynCTI), National University of Singapore), started in 2019. The project also collaborates with A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) and TWB (Toulouse White Biotechnology, CNRS – INRAE – INSA).

Dr Thomas Lautier and PhD student Aurélie Bouin

Dr Thomas Lautier and PhD student Aurélie Bouin, from the CNRS SynBioEco IRP project. Credits: CNRS in ASEAN.

The IRP’s project aims at producing new frontline scientific knowledge at the best international level, in the field of systems and synthetic biology applied to a bio-inspired economy. The scientific objective is to address generic knowledge’s bottlenecks to overcome the main limitations in using biocatalysts for industrial production, based on fundamental understanding of living systems. This knowledge ultimately will aim at designing innovative efficient strategy to develop new biocatalysts or bio products, or at optimizing the process currently used to produce targeted molecules already existing, from renewable resources. The biocatalysts will be engineered and optimized with a systemic approach to develop new bioprocess and to optimize performances according to industrial criteria. 

Read more about the IRP SynBioEco here.

The CNRS@CREATE EcoCTs project

EcoCTs – Engineering biology for a circular bioeconomy – Towards urban sustainability – is a CNRS@CREATE project involving NUS and A*STAR on the Singaporean side, and TBI (CNRS – INRAE – INSA) on the French side. The project started in October 2020, for 3 years, and is co-led by Dr Isabelle André (TBI-CNRS) and Prof. Chueh Loo Poh (SynCTI-NUS).

EcoCTs project aims at increasing the knowledge-based understanding of biotransformation efficiency, dramatically accelerating the discovery to application pipeline. Specifically, the project addresses three complimentary aspects along the value-chain in a unified and coherent manner, drawing on the existing expertise of the partners: Exploring novel enzyme engineering to create improved enzymatic activities and the spatial structuration of novel synthetic pathways to ensure high efficiency throughput; Developing innovative experimental and computational methods to design and pragmatically optimise metabolic pathways; Integrating experimental and computational methods for bioprocess optimisation.

The use of common biological transformation models throughout ensures the overall coherence of this systematic programme and lead to increase competitivity of the biotechnology effort in Singapore, moving Singapore towards a leading green low-waste liveable city in a circular bio-economy context. EcoCTs held their midterm meetings in Singapore earlier this year, after a long period of virtual meetings.

EcoCTs group photo

The EcoCTs team gathered in CREATE Tower, Singapore, for their midterm meetings in June 2022. Credits: CNRS@CREATE.

Next stop for iGEM: Paris in October 2022!

The next edition of iGEM will take place in Paris, on 26-28 October 2022, with more than 7,000 participants. Students, academics, investors, industry reps, journalists, and the public will convene for this 3-day world expo of synthetic biology in Paris, France. 350+ iGEM teams will present their projects to the world, and on the final day, the top projects will be celebrated with prizes and medals. The program is complemented by side events, including the Startup Showcase.

More details about iGEM here.