Team:Tec-Monterrey EKAM/Sybre


Past participation of ITESM’s teams on the iGEM competition has not been properly organized from an institutional angle. The first involvement, in 2010, was an entirely student-formed idea and, although it was supported by some school authorities and faculty members, it was not planned. With the experience gained, the second year partaking was more prepared, but it still lacked a formal structure with which to guide, support and fund the project.

For this edition of iGEM, the school division prepared an official elective class –Synthetic Biology- which students had to take in order to access the institution’s official support. This was a step forward, but it had a mayor disadvantage: the class was imparted in the January – May semester. Project proposals were elaborated and discussed during this time while the instructors gave feedback and suggestions. Before a panel of teachers, researchers and the division director, the selection was made at the end of the semester: out of the three final projects, two merged and the school decided to register two teams.

Having the ‘go-ahead’ at May, meant that –due to normal waiting times and some bureaucratic red-tape- the genetic constructs would be ordered in June and would not arrive until late July. Other reagents and materials would have to wait until the start of the August – December semester to be ordered along the usual academic laboratory requisitions. iGEM lab work is supposed to be made during the summer (or, even better, started previously), not frantically during the first two months of a school term.

In order to ensure that future teams from the school can compete in an ordered and productive manner, with plenty of time to spare, we decided to institutionalize the school’s participation in iGEM through an official student group. We already had the intention of setting up a group to form, coordinate and support student research teams in synthetic biology, so we included the organization of the iGEM participation into the work plan and filed all the appropriate papers. The group name is SyBRE (Synthetic Biology Research and Engineering). It was finally approved and sanctioned by AGE (the student group’s governing body) on September 24th.

SyBRE’s mission is to encourage research and engineering in synthetic biology amongst the students of ITESM’s Monterrey Campus. It will seek to include members from a cross-disciplinary background in order to broaden the scope and reach of the projects being developed. It will foster the creation of biotech start-ups and research groups from undergrad students. With the implementation of DETECT (‘Detección de Estudiantes con Talento’ - Detection of Talented Students) as a social community program, SyBRE will spread the knowledge of synthetic biology (starting from basic biology and chemistry) through gifted children in local schools.

Regarding iGEM, SyBRE’s founding will allow to plan ahead and coordinate future participations so that preparations are done in time and lab work can begin as soon as the January-May semester ends (or sooner if possible). Sponsorship seeking and overall funding will be better handled as an official student group since it has more legal venues to procure resources both inside and outside the Campus. SyBRE will also allow the development of long-term relationships with sponsors by keeping the same ‘face’ through the years, irrespective of the current team composition.

The final goal of SyBRE is to procure a physical place where its members can nurture academic and business projects related to synthetic biology without having to depend entirely on other departments and to review the policies and controls of the grant of access to laboratories and the use of equipment. Several issues arose during the past months and most of them could have been prevented or better handled.

Another challenge to tackle is to change the cultural biases that prevent the full utilization of the laboratories due to territorial feuds, bureaucracy, whimsical baroque formalities, the ‘nobility’ of the PhD (a grave issue in high context, high power distance, patriarchal societies like ours), etc. We know that modifying hard-wired behavior is difficult, but it must be at least tried. Science and initiative should not be hampered by self-defeating practices.

Thankfully, there's always people (administrators and faculty) which go out of their way to try to help motivated students achieve their dreams. They work against the statu quo to mobilize resources and find spaces to provide undergraduates with the necessary tools for the iGEM experience and research ventures. Some of these people are in our Attribution page and we are deeply grateful to them.

There are some excellent students in our Campus. With the right stimulus they can be moved to do great things. SyBRE is our way of helping them and ourselves bring those things to reality, knowing that the effort will last, that future generations will benefit from the advances made by the previous ones and, little by little, create something that will surpass our initial vision.