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What Makes an iGEM Grand Prize Winner?

iGEM competition jamboree

Image credit: The iGEM Foundation and Justin Knight

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) has recently opened its applications for the next round of competition and jamboree between student teams across the globe. The synthetic biology competition has steadily been growing in popularity since its launch. In 2004 there were just 31 participants. By 2010 this had grown to 2327 and in 2016 a whopping 5600 people took part.

Whether you’re considering registering a team of students, have already, or are looking to encourage a faculty member to help you, here are some of the stats around previous grand prize winners to help you plan a successful project.

Team Size

Total team sizes, including advisors and instructors, ranged from 10 to 37 members. While you may think ‘the more, the merrier’, our data showed that 47% of grand prize winners were teams of between 13 and 19 members.

In the same vein, the amount of instructors and advisors a team had ranged from two to 17. However, 64.7% of iGEM grand prize winners only had between 4 and 7 helping hands.

Number of student members

Throughout history, the number 12 has been considered symbolic. There are numerous reported ceremonial, magical, and religious uses of the number. With 23.5% of iGEM grand prize winners being teams with 12 students, it looks like it may be the magic number after all.

Choice of Track

Advancing the core technologies of synthetic biology and coming up with novel solutions to technical problems are of utmost importance within the field. iGEM relies on a number of core technologies, such as BioBricks, Standardisation (RFCs) and high-throughput quality control, to run their competition. Teams placed in the Foundational Advance track contribute kits and parts to advance the field. Out of 9 tracks, we found that 17.6% of iGEM grand prize winners have had projects within Foundational Advance.


The iGEM winners are a diverse group: 42 countries from across the globe took part in 2016. France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States have all taken home the grand prize. Furthermore, the United States, Slovenia and Germany have a very marginal lead on the others. However, when we examined regional data, we found that 64.7% of iGEM grand prize winners were from Europe.

So, if you’re part of a European team in the Foundational Advance track, with a team of 12 students and 4 to 7 instructors; the odds are in your favour. If not, don’t worry – Team HSiTAIWAN’s success in the High School section in 2016 shows that statistics will only get you so far.

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