2015 Giant Jamboree in Images and Words

We’ve now had a week to settle in since our late drive home from the 2015 iGEM Jamboree. The jamboree, held in Boston every fall, is the culmination of the iGEM synthetic biology competition. During the awards ceremony on September 28, we held our breath with more than 2700 students from 260 other teams as the nominations flashed on screen. The jamboree experience, though, is much more than the ceremony’s final hours.

Heck, the weeks before the jamboree are part of the experience. September and its deadlines hit the Waterloo iGEM team hard. Our lab had been alarmingly empty around the end of August as everyone tried to snatch some vacation time before the end of our too-brief Ontario summer. This year there was only a week between the start of classes and the wiki freeze; our lab and office were jammed with laptops and coffee mugs for many consecutive midnights that week. Six of us pulled an all-nighter on September 21 to finish our poster, alternating cat naps on the student lounge couches.

As you can imagine, we’re not a terribly rested bunch in the photograph below, taken on Thursday before we left for the jamboree. (Though this is partly because we had to depart Waterloo before dawn to arrive in Boston at a reasonable hour).

Leaving Waterloo before dawn

After 10 hours on the road and two of our vans getting lost in the maze of Boston highways, we finally made it to our hotel. We started noticing signs of the jamboree as soon as we stepped foot into the lobby:

We couldn’t be too social on our first two days in Boston, though, since our presentation still wasn’t done. Jamboree presentation slots are assigned randomly and Waterloo got pretty lucky this year (right after lunch on Saturday) but much of Friday was spent in panic and preparation. You can see what our hotel room looked like at 11:00 pm on Friday night below. Not exactly party central.

That hotel room when your slides aren't done the night before presentation

(That photo isn’t staged, honest- there really were that many of us working on graphics for the presentation at once.) We admittedly started panicking more after some team members attended the CRISPR Workshop and got to meet John Doench, the lead author on a paper about sgRNA efficiency we’d used as a basis for our CRISPieR project.

With nine simultaneous presentations in each timeslot, you might think we’d worry about speaking to a vacant room on Saturday. Thankfully, we’d thought ahead and brought a record number of team members to Boston to fill the seats. You can see the monumental size of our jamboree squad in the photo below. We could barely fit onto the podium to answer questions.

Squad crowding the podium after the presentation

The presentation went well and afterwards we shrugged off a lot of stress and got down to exploring. The jamboree environment is really chaotic and stimulating: in an afternoon you can bounce from a conversation with one of your judges (who just happens to be a plant virologist working to revise international biosafety protocols) to scheduling a tour of the Ginkgo Bioworks foundry to doing an interpretive dance of a low-cost fluorescence microscope.

This chaotic excitement probably peaks during the evening poster sessions. We saw teams with turntables of agar plates generating music and tabletop bioreactors, teams giving honeybees better gut bacteria and children novel nightlights. Yet we barely glimpsed the wealth of ideas on display- there were so many teams this year, with so many ambitious projects, that no one person could take them all in.

The poster sessions were also when we got to share our ideas. We babbled excitedly about CRISPR to other teams, judges, startup founders and even the PLOS Synbio blogger. Our project director, James Hawley, had a chance to speak personally with iGEM founder Randy Rettberg, so expect an updated version of his iGEM critique in the coming weeks.

Explaining our poster

This was also Waterloo’s best year ever in terms of prizes- we walked away with a gold medal, overgraduate awards for Best Poster and Best Software tool, and a nomination for Best Foundation Advance. Seeing our university’s name up beside Heidelberg and Harvard in the list of nominees felt like a real validation of our work this year. The jamboree was a wonderful way to wrap up the months of our lives we signed over to iGEM. We’re already looking forward to next year.

Standing in front of the Hynes with our prizes

5 Tools to Use in Your iGEM Wiki

Wikis are a big part of each iGEM project, and making one from scratch is a big deal. Thankfully, we’ve come across some tools and add-ins that make designing our iGEM wiki a bit easier, and make the site itself cleaner and easier to use.



Designing a responsive wiki page and being able to properly navigate it can be difficult, but Bootstrap makes this significantly easier (and is free). By customizing a navbar to your liking and using Bootstrap’s CSS styling on your pages, it provides an almost out-of-the-box way to properly size, style, and navigate your wiki, making it easy for readers to find your content and view it on any device. You can use a CDN to call it as a stylesheet, but since all iGEM wiki content has to be hosted on iGEM servers, you can easily download the CSS and JS files and publish them on your wiki.



FontAwesome has 585 icons in its latest version, gives you icons that scale to almost whatever size you like, and is completely free. You can include almost whatever icon you want on your page, from social media icons, to web application icons, to file types and currencies, to make it look professional and understandable. Like Bootstrap, you can use a CDN, or download the CSS file and upload it to your iGEM wiki.



Writing equations isn’t always easy, especially when you have a coupled system of 20 differential equations that all need to be displayed properly. LaTeX has been the go-to for professional looking math rendering for decades, but it doesn’t work on web. That’s where MathJax steps in. It renders equations just like LaTeX does, and you can use the same LaTeX precompiled code in your wiki page contents without having to change anything. This makes styling your equations and displaying them incredibly easy.

Thankfully, MathJax comes pre-installed for all iGEM teams, and it just needs to be activated to work. Add the following lines to your team’s template to use MathJax on your wiki.

<script src="/common/MathJax-2.5-latest/MathJax.js?config=TeX-AMS-MML_HTMLorMML"></script>
<script type="text/x-mathjax-config">
MathJax.Hub.Config({tex2jax: {inlineMath: [['$','$'], ['\\(','\\)']]}});

CSS Precompilers

CSS precompilers make writing stylesheets significantly easier. With the ability to easily define variables, mixins, wireframes, and templates, you can quickly write short and readable code that resembles CSS, that compiles into fully fledged minified CSS that can be used in any browser. Less and Sass are two very popular precompilers, either of which will likely suit your needs.

Wiki Generator

Our friends at the University of Toronto got tired of using iGEM’s in-browser text editor for MediaWiki. It’s ugly, it’s a hassle to use, and changing and uploading files is a pain. So they designed a wiki generator and uploader that allows you to work locally with files, create a local live version of your wiki, as well as upload to your team’s iGEM wiki space. It’s still in development, so don’t be surprised if there are a few bugs, but it’s mostly completed and should be good to go for most purposes.

Happy Coding!

With the Wiki Freeze just a couple weeks away, hopefully these tools can make your team’s development much easier, especially if your team doesn’t have much web design experience. And by all means, feel free to use code from Waterloo’s wiki, which can be found by looking at the source of our 2015 wiki, or on our GitHub repo in the “wiki” folder.

Gene Editing and Genetically Modified Organism Surveys!

Would you like to participate in a survey and share your opinions on gene editing techniques and/or genetically modified organisms? Then we’d love it if you could help our project this year by completing our survey(s)!

Link to genetically modified organism survey:

Link to gene editing survey:

2015-09-01 Edit: The surveys are now closed, thanks for everyone who volunteered to provide us with your answers!