Tracks/Community Labs

Who is the Community Labs track for?

Everyone! The Community Labs track is open to any organization, academic or otherwise, that would like to participate in iGEM. It is also the only track available to non-academic teams. These can include DIY Bio labs, hackerspaces, public institutions, and basically any organization interested in the design and engineering of biological machines.

What's this iGEM thing all about?

Some have said that Biotechnology is (Becoming) Technology?

Since it’s inception in 2005, competing in iGEM (and receiving/remixing the remarkable library of approx. 2000 standard genetic “biobrick parts” at the heart of the competition) has been restricted primarily to college students hosted by academic biotechnology labs. The Community Labs track, first introduced in the 2014 competition, opens the competition to a wider base of participants, with some restrictions. . We especially want to encourage teams that may not be able to conduct genetic engineering experiments within their labs due to local regulations. It’s also possible to collaborate with an authorized institution for the parts of the project that require licensed facilities.

Teams develop their projects for several month over the spring and summer, then compete at the iGEM Jamboree for a variety of awards and prizes:

  • A Bronze, Silver or Gold Medal, available non-exclusively to each team based on excellence.
  • A Best-of-Track Award awarded only to one of the teams in each track.
  • A variety of Special Prizes.
  • The iGEM Grand Prize.

How do you “win” the Community Labs track?

Remember, in addition to the Track Award, teams may also be awarded a Bronze, Silver or Gold Medal; a variety of Special Cross-Track Prizes; and the iGEM Grand Prize.

By building something that radically increases access to the practice of Synthetic Biology consistent with iGEM’s core values of modularity and openness.

Biotechnology is expensive, arcane, and bespoke, in part because the tools needed to do the work have been optimized for their power to answer cutting-edge scientific questions, not their simplicity, affordability, or ubiquity. These tools complement their professional counterparts by supporting more informal, playful explorations of the technology space; together, they accelerate innovation.

The Community Labs track prize will go to the team that best democratizes access to and use of synthetic biology. Build something that does that and demonstrate it's utility in the wider world. For example:

  1. (re)designing and implementing tools and techniques optimized for simplicity, ease-of-use, cost openness, and sense of fun :)... and demonstrate their utility to actual users in the “real world”
  2. develop a new application using existing synthetic biology tools and techniques that inspires collaboration and reuse amongst new communities of practitioners, and optionally also with existing professionals; and demonstrate this effect in real communities
  3. Create a product, platform, or major event that significantly increases the understanding or accessibility of synthetic biology concepts and practices and, most importantly, gets used in the real world.
  4. If you need ideas, consider exploring a synthetic biology project that interests you “just because it would be cool!” but that is unlikely to receive much academic or professional support. With enough quirkiness, documentation, and occasional surprises, your project may inspire other individuals to explore between the lines of academia and industry as well, leading to new practitioners and perhaps the discovery of a few new technical shortcuts appropriate for “personal” scale work.


Projects that get to the core of the Community Lab Track can shine by tapping the crowd for people and resources, demonstrating that a motivated team of amateurs can do scientifically, economically, and socially interesting synthetic biology together.

SF Bay Area DIY Bio assembled a volunteer team to do the bench work and crowdfunded it... Also ran a $37k Indiegogo campaign to continue project past iGEM. (video)

They also provide the foundation for future groups, providing models to bootstrap a successful lab without needing a degree in biology.

Projects that make the practice of synthetic biology easier, more affordable, and faster, such as OpenLab-Blueprint, Bioglyphics, and OpenTrons from Genspace 2014 Community Labs team. Note: OpenTrons spun-out into an open-source hardware company that successfully raised $126,694 Nov 30 2014.

Or they can use their expertise to bring the public, especially those with no previous interest or background, and turn them into participants in our mission for the advancement of synthetic biology.

The Tech’s aim was for people of all ages and with no biology background to become part of their iGEM team. To tackle these goals, they developed an interactive activity in which visitors are involved collaboratively in both making and analyzing multi-colored bacteria.

Or they can work on making the tools and materials easier to and more affordable to use.

The CU-Boulder 2013 team worked on a low-cost restriction enzyme expression and purification system optimized for minimal equipment and reagents use to enable simple, on-location production of BBF10-compatible REs while reducing waste flows. This led the team to demonstrate several clever shortcuts for routine molecular biology techniques, such as a protein purification protocol using an agarose gel and enzyme purification with elastin fusion proteins. Overall, their project demonstrated affordable alternatives to more costly techniques that are often taken for granted in traditional settings.


Please refer to the detailed Calendar of Events page.


Please refer to the Fees page

Team registration fee: $4500 (including $500 “late” fee after March 31 - Due May 1, 2015
Jamboree attendance fee: $695 per team attendee (not all have to attend) - Due July 31, 2015

iGEM can seem forebodingly expensive, especially to new teams and non-academic teams. The single largest expense category for most teams is travel and lodging to attend the Giant Jamboree in Boston, typically dwarfing the amount spent on student stipends, synthesis costs, other research and materials costs, etc. Therefore, many iGEM teams raise funds via corporate sponsorships and public grants, as well as paying out-of-pocket.

Here’s a handy guide to Fundrasing, iGEM style. And the list of offical iGEM sponsors.

Some teams raise just enough to cover official fees; others raise significantly more to cover travel and student stipends (in some cases upwards of $50k). In many cases, teams reduce or eliminate costs for many materials and reagents with corporate sponsorship.

In Aug 2014, the Counter Culture Labs Community Labs Track team raised $37,369 on an indigogo campaign for their “Real Vegan Cheese” project. The scientific novelty of iGEM combined with the empowering spirit of the Community Labs track may be ideal ingreadients for successful Crowdfunding campaigns, and we encourage more teams to explore this avenue, but beware of the leadtime (months before getting the funds) and production overhead. Go check out their iGEM finances - they published them!


If you participate in iGEM this season, we will ship you a copy of the 2015 distribution as well as fulfill any part requests for the duration of the competition. You get space on this 2015 wiki to display your project, a presentation slot and poster board at the Giant Jamboree.

In general, all teams are expected to

  • Have at least two advisors (for community labs, two team members must have signing ability on behalf of the host organization)

  • Document and describe your project:

    • via your team wiki pages on
    • via a 20-minute presentation at the Jamboree in September.
    • via a poster, also at the Jamboree
    • via part documentation on the iGEM Registry of Standard Biological Parts
  • Contributing new or improved parts to the iGEM Registry of Standard Biological Parts is a key activity in iGEM. If your project involves constructing a genetic system, please send it to the Registry! Be sure to send it in the required BBF RFC 10 format.

  • Participate in the iGEM Safety Program

  • Have “fun!”

But wait, there’s more! Please carefully review the additional requirements on the Requirements page.

Special Community Labs track requirements

In addition the the general requirements for all iGEM teams, Community Lab teams are required to complete the following:

  • Team composition. While there is no minimum number of team members, iGEM is a team competition and single individual entries will not be accepted. CL teams must have two advisors, one of which must be in the field of their chosen subject area.
  • Community Lab teams must demonstrate they have access to a BL 1 lab in order to receive a copy of the distribution.
  • Teams participating in the hardware aspect of the CL track are encouraged to bring their equipment to the Giant Jamboree. Teams may not bring live or inactive organisms as part of their equipment. This topic will be covered in more detail when evaluation criteria and awards are published.

As Community Lab teams are not operating within the framework offered by academic institutions, they must meet the following additional requirements:

  1. CL teams must be an incorporated entity (for profit or not-for-profit).
  2. CL teams must have a legal entity that has the ability to sign contracts.


Medal Criteria

Please see the Community Labs track medal page for everything you ever wanted to know about medals!

Special Prizes

13 Special Prizes may or may not be awarded at the Jamboree, and teams can win more than one:

Best Integrated Human Practices, Best Education and Public Engagement, Best Measurement Approach, Best Model, Best New Basic Part, Best New Composite Part, Best Part Collection, Best Wiki, Best Poster, Best Presentation, Best Software Tool, NEW! Best Supporting Entrepreneurship, Best Applied Design

The iGEM Grand Prize

A small number of iGEM teams will be selected by the judges as iGEM Finalists. These teams will be selected based on the overall excellence of their entire project, from choice of project, to new Parts and Devices, to the quality of the Project Description, Poster, and Presentation, to the success and impact of the project, to consideration of issues of Policy and Practices, and so on. There will be three finalists from both the undergraduate section and the overgraduate section.

  1. Grand Prize Undergraduate: also known as the aluminum BioBrick Trophy; best overall undergraduate team project
  2. First Runner-Up Undergraduate: the next highest ranking undergraduate team project
  3. Second Runner-Up Undergraduate: the next highest ranking undergraduate team project
  4. Grand Prize Overgraduate: also known as the aluminum BioBrick Trophy; best overall overgraduate team project
  5. First Runner-Up Overgraduate: the next highest ranking overgraduate team project
  6. Second Runner-Up Overgraduate: the next highest ranking overgraduate team project

Other ways to participate

Find another team (doesn’t have to be local!) and suggest a collaboration! Community Lab projects may offer excellent opportunities for other teams to create innovative human practices advances.

For help finding other teams, please explore the list of registered iGEM teams, and feel free to get in touch.


Check out the offical iGEM Resource page

Get in touch

Email us at: communitylabs (at) igem (dot) org

Community Labs track Committee

We have a great committee to help coordinate this endeavor!