<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" ""> University of Southampton Wiki

Advisor Blog






12 December 2008


To iGEM or not to iGEM? On one hand we have a cohort of students who have been through our first ever Synthetic Biology elective module, so are keen and fired up to do great things. On the other there’s the inevitable huge amount of work that will pile on the other huge amounts of work we all seem to be doing. I know there’s more than 24 hours in a day, but this would just be ridiculous. On yet another hand is the issue of funding.   We could get the money but would it be a good use of it? On a further hand: we would raise the profile of Synthetic Biology across the University by participating in iGEM. Things that make you go hmmm. .. So many hands to play.  To iGEM or not to iGEM? A Kali-esque dilemma.


15 December 2008


Flipping a coin decided it. The paths of fifteen people will be forced to cross. The course of their summer will be decided.  Who knows what rows, infatuations or personal hells may face them? And the possibility of abject failure, either personally or as a group, scarring them and shaping their future life choices. So naughty. Flipping a coin decided it. Simple really.


15 January 2009


Eeeny, meeny,…. Who will be on the first Southampton iGEM team? Bright sparks? Style freaks? Shy geeks? Sharp wits? Half wits? Bookworms? Sloworms? A “rigorous selection process is needed”. I think about it. Who will be on the first Southampton iGEM team? Eeeny, meeny,….


20 May 2009


May the Lord have mercy on their souls. The fifteen now are. Eleven proselytes and four pros. A motley fellowship forged in the quest for mythical plasmid rings. The chosen ones have met several times amid good cheer and much jollity. Discussions have begun to focus on the project itself. What are we going to do?  Several brainstorming sessions to focus, refine and hone, coming up over the next few weeks. The road ahead is treacherous and will be strewn with dashed expectations. Free enterprise: may the Lord have mercy on their souls.


15 June 2009


Logistics, logistics, logistics. A fellowship of fifteen, made up of four advisors, two undergrads with a little experience in genetic modification and nine neophytes.  Put the two as joint leaders of the team. Organise office large enough for whole team as the iGEM base room, then find lab space. Our labs are full so need a whole new room. Room identified, so now cunning plots on how to defenestrate its current occupant. Have we enough equipment? Less than a month to mission start date so massive spending spree to equip additional lab with day-to-day equipment and consumables for eleven hungry students. Oh, and not forgetting Human Resources paperwork for all undergrads, complete with project description and person description forms. Aaargh!


3 July 2009


Don’t adjust your set, normal service will be resumed shortly. It’s amazing and not a little sad to see how idealism is dashed on the rocks of pragmatism. Firstly one undergrad team member left behind due to ill health. “Don’t wait for me. I’ll only slow you down”. Brave soldier. The brainstorming meetings produced so many ideas for practical solutions to real problems. The undergraduate team members were united by their zeal to achieve something that mattered, to work on a project that helps somebody, somewhere, rather than one that is just scientifically interesting. The Southampton iGEM2009 team is set to save the world! Don’t adjust your set, normal service will be resumed shortly. Save the world!  In ten weeks? Frantic meetings of advisors come up with initial ideas for projects that are in fact deliverable in ten weeks. The Game of Life and the Gray-Scott projects are born – definitely very interesting scientifically. Tethered by gravity, pragmatism rules absolute.


9 July 2009


Here’s one I prepared earlier. The two experienced undergrads have just become newby postgrads and have been working through the reactions that will be used in the project, preparing protocol sheets and making sure everything is ready to go.  We have a rough time plan for how the project will develop: two weeks of skills development + six weeks of frantic effort + two weeks of optimisation = a perfect fully working project that will stun the iGEM community by its beauty and cleverness. Maybe we should have had a pre-iGEM project, just in case things don’t quite work out as we expect, so that we could do the old “Here’s one I prepared earlier” routine…


13 July 2009


One day all this will be yours. First day of the iGEM team. Tomorrow I am out with the other advisors and the two group leaders on our annual outing. The iGEM neophytes will be starting as we mean them to go on: on their own. One day all this will be yours. Actually that day is tomorrow. And remember to switch off the lights when you leave.


29 July 2009


I think we chose wisely. I can’t believe how well the iGEM team are getting on with each other. This generation is so networked and multi-task enabled that when a group of them get together they morph into a single organism – not unlike a slime mould, but somewhat less smelly. The iGEM collective! New age, new style. The banter in the office is good, morale is strong, as is the sexual tension. I think we chose wisely.


4 August 2009


Be afraid of swarms, be very afraid. This networking thing is unsettling. They work hard and play hard with each other, but can’t seem to function if taken out of the group. I was in the lab yesterday preparing some samples for another project and four of the iGEM team were there to run some DNA gels. They moved like a mini-swarm with the average distance between in the range 0.65 m - 0.72 m. They swarmed to the fridge, where a discussion was had on which was the right DNA ladder to use. Then they swarmed towards a bench in search of a pipette; discussion of which would be the best one to use started before  conclusions were reached on the DNA ladder. Then they swarmed to the gel electrophoresis equipment, where a third stream of debates was started on how, what voltage, who and for how long. Before long gels were stabbed and subjected to what amounted to capital punishment. Not surprisingly the results were surprising to the swarm. Idiot village. Be afraid of swarms, be very afraid.


24 August 2009


Shiny ideas lie discarded. The fellowship has suffered another casualty. It’s now down to eight undergrads, with one having to be carted to the local hospital. This may be a temporary absence sorted by quick and dirty surgery. The undergrads appear to have progressed from the neophyte stage, and to be less prone to swarming, but at what cost? I wonder about the long term mental health of the two group leaders who are putting their all into this. After much internal discussion the group have decided to change the project targets. Game of Life remains, but Gray-Scott has become Rock-Paper-Scissors, a much better proposition.  Also, much debate about a logo. I produce several suggestions that are dismissed contemptuously by the iGEM collective. They’ve come up with E.colYMPICS. This lot can do cheesy in such an effortless and classy way. Shiny ideas lie discarded like empty wing cases in an insect graveyard.


15 September 2009


Sometimes less is more. Back from a week in Turkey, at a conference of course. Found a despondent iGEM collective; ligations are not working. But the collective seems to be licking it’s wounds – literally in the case of one team member. Time for a pep talk to keep up their spirits, which I deliver while thinking of Churchill, William Wallace and King Leonidas. They seem even more unhappy now. Come to think of it two of the three came to a very sticky end. Sometimes less is more.


25 September 2009


The end is nigh. Last day of the iGEM lab experience for the undergraduates; next week they go back to their normal academic life. So far the project has not been an unqualified success. But there is still hope with the two postgraduates soldiering on unfettered by having to lead the group. The end is in sight, the end is nigh.


9 October 2009


Desperate times need desperate measures. With time running out we need our ligations to work so that we can submit at least one new biobrick. I take my place on the front line and go into the lab to do some transformations.  Another contribution. One of the transformations works. Desperate times need desperate measures.


19 October 2009


Good things come to those who wait. Today and tomorrow we tie up all lose ends. New biobrick made, sequenced and sent off to iGEM HQ. Last changes to the team Wiki. In the next couple of weeks the team will be practicing its presentation and printing the poster. And then its off to the Jamboree. Except that I won’t be there, other than in spirit. I will be looking down on the small harbour into which the ‘Demeter’ was guided, “unsteered save by the hand of a dead man”, musing on how, a bit like iGEM2009 for us, this marked the beginning of an interesting sequence of events, rather than the end. The unseen ripple of the pebble. The legacy of our iGEM2009 experience? A few tips:

  • iGEM is about the undergraduate experience. Let them run it and run with it. The temptation for advisors to interfere with the iGEM collective is very strong, but must be resisted. Strong undergrad leaders are priceless.

  • iGEM is not cheap. Is the undergraduate experience worth it? If it is (and for us it was) then the whole operation needs to be resourced properly

  • it is worth putting time and effort planning ahead the logistics of the whole iGEM experience.

  • the legacy of the iGEM experience is almost certainly more important than the experience itself or the outcome of the project.

But above all: good things come to those who wait.



| Top |          University of Southampton iGEM 2009