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iGEM 2014 Microfluidics New Track

We are excited to announce that iGEM is establishing a new microfluidics track for iGEM 2014! This year, a limited number of teams will be able to participate in the microfluidics track.

Two different kinds of teams can participate in the microfluidics track:

  1. Experienced microfluidics labs
  2. Microfluidics kit teams (Mkit teams)

Experienced teams will already have access to microfluidics controllers, microfluidics manufacture facilities and have an understanding of how to use them. They will be able to start their projects as soon as they sign up.

Microfluidics Workshop at iGEM HQ

Teams new to microfluidics will need to learn a few things to get started. To do this, we will be holding a workshop where microfluidics kit (Mkit) teams will come to iGEM HQ and pick up their 8-channel controller. We will teach them how to use it, as well as how to build the microfluidics circuits using a spin coater and etched silicon wafers. We're still working out all the details, but there will be an additional cost to receive the hardware and attend the workshop.

Introduction to Microfluidics

Microfluidic, or “lab-on-a-chip” technology, is a maturing field of research involving miniaturized systems where fluids are manipulated on the scale of nanoliters and picoliters. With microfluidics it is possible to perform high-throughput biological experiments integrating multiple functions in devices no larger than a postage stamp. Researchers have successfully miniaturized oligo synthesis1, gene2 and genetic circuit assembly3, along with cell culture4.

In this track, each team will receive an 8-channel, open-source microfluidic controller (Figure 1, right) along with silicon molds for fabricating a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)-based ring-mixer device for genetic circuit assembly (Figure 1, left). PDMS microfluidic devices, fabricated by multilayer soft lithography, enable thousands of flexible valves to be integrated into cm2 devices and allow users to carry out complex fluid operations such as the parallel compartmentalization of thousands of picoliter-scale volumes, pumping, and mixing5,6.

Microfluidics chip and schematic Microfluidics setup images

Figure 1 (left) A ring-mixer microfluidic device for genetic circuit assembly showing four device operations. Scale-bar represents 10 mm. (right) A 32-channel Arduino-based microfluidic controller. Students will receive an 8-channel version.

The controller can execute pneumatically-driven device operations comprising a full microfluidic genetic circuit assembly protocol (Figure 1, left) with the push of a button and does not require tethering with a computer for function. Solenoids for pneumatic manipulation are controlled by an open-source Arduino Mega microcontroller, and device operations, written in open-source software, Arduino Sketch, are customizable. A protocol for genetic circuit assembly will be pre-loaded into each controller.

Representatives from each team will be expected to attend a Tutorial Weekend at iGEM headquarters in April (exact date TBD) where instructors will show students how to fabricate their own devices, program the controller, and ultimately operate the devices and perform a genetic circuit assembly reaction.


During the summer, teams will be expected to:

  1. Fabricate their own microfluidic devices. Teams can use the silicon molds provided to manufacture ring-mixers, but are encouraged to leverage any available rapid prototyping tools (laser-cutting, 3D printing, etc) to design and make their own devices.
  2. Perform synthetic biology experiments with their devices. Using their fabricated devices and either the provided controller or any of their own custom hardware (also encouraged), teams must demonstrate synthetic biology experiments with their system. These experiments could range from genetic circuit assembly to cell culture to circuit-testing in devices.
  3. Finally, teams will upload any new digital designs for devices and/or hardware along with any new controller code to “Metafluidics,” a new open repository of device and hardware designs for microfluidics, to share with a larger miniaturization community.

Space is limited, so please apply for the new microfluidics track as soon as you can!

Medal Criteria

Bronze. The following 5 goals must be achieved:

  1. Team registration.
  2. Complete Judging form.
  3. Team Wiki.
  4. Present a poster and a talk at the iGEM Jamboree.
  5. Demonstrate the implementation of any fluidic system. Document via video, images, and text how you fabricated and tested any milli-, micro- or nano-fluidic system. The system documentation should include both the fluidic device and any hardware for controlling the device (e.g. syringe pump). No functional biology is required, only evidence that (a) at least one system was fabricated, and (b) at least one aspect of the system (e.g. flow of food color) functions as planned.

Silver: In addition to the Bronze Medal requirements, the following 2 mandatory goals and one optional goal must be achieved:

  1. Document and submit your fluidic system to the "Metafluidics" repository of device and hardware designs.
  2. Your project may have implications for the environment, security, safety and ethics and/or ownership and sharing. Describe one or more ways in which these or other broader implications have been taken into consideration in the design and execution of your project.

    Achieve one or more of the following:

  3. Demonstrate the implementation of a novel fluidic system. This system can be a variation of an existing published system, with novel areas including optimized device geometries, integration of different functional modules (e.g. on-chip mixer and incubator), improved "world-to-chip" interfaces, improved controller hardware, or software.
  4. Document what you consider the novel features are compared to previous work. Note this does not require demonstration of biological function. Use an existing fluidic system to miniaturize an established biological process (e.g. PCR) or characterize an existing BioBrick Part or Device. Document any biological protocols performed utilizing your fluidic system. Compare biological protocols conducted on-chip against standard bench top techniques.

Gold: In addition to the Bronze and Silver Medal requirements, any one or more of the following:

  1. Utilizing your novel fluidic system, characterize or improve the function of an existing BioBrick Part or Device. Document any biological protocols performed utilizing your microfluidic system. Compare biological protocols conducted on-chip against standard bench top techniques. Upload data collected to the page of the part(s) used on the Registry of Standard Biological Parts via experience page/contribution system.
  2. Utilizing any fluidic system, characterize a new BioBrick Part or Device. Document any biological protocols performed utilizing your microfluidic system. Compare biological protocols conducted on-chip against standard bench top techniques. Upload data collected to the page of the part(s) used on the Registry of Standard Biological Parts via experience page/contribution system.
  3. Help any registered iGEM team from another school or institution by, for example, characterizing a part, debugging a construct, or modeling or simulating their system. Help with biological or microfluidic components, devices, and systems is welcome!
  4. iGEM projects involve important questions beyond the bench, for example relating to (but not limited to) ethics, sustainability, social justice, safety, security, or intellectual property rights. Describe an approach that your team used to address at least one of these questions. Evaluate your approach, including whether it allowed you to answer your question(s), how it influenced the team’s scientific project, and how it might be adapted for others to use (within and beyond iGEM). We encourage thoughtful and creative approaches, and those that draw on past Policy & Practice (formerly Human Practices) activities.

Track Committee:

  • Dr. David Sun Kong, MIT Lincoln Laboratory
  • Dr. Todd Thorsen, MIT Lincoln Laboratory
  • Mr. Michael VanInsberghe, University of British Columbia
  • References:

    1. Lee, C-C., Snyder T.M., and Quake, S.R. 2010. A microfluidic oligonucleotide synthesizer. Nucleic Acids Research 1:8.
    2. Kong, D.S., P.A. Carr, L. Chen, S. Zhang, and J.M. Jacobson. 2007. Parallel gene synthesis in a microfluidic device. Nucleic Acids Research, 35, e61.
    3. Kong, D.S., Thorsen, T.A., Babb, J., Wick, S., Gam, J., Weiss, R., and Carr, P.A. 2013. Open-Source Microfluidic Genetic Circuit Assembly, manuscript submitted.
    4. Zhang, B., Kim, M.-C., Thorsen, T.A., Wang, Z. 2009. A self-contained microfluidic cell culture system. Biomed Microdevices, DOI 10.1007/s10544-009-9342-4
    5. Unger, M.A., Chou, H.-P., Thorsen, T., Scherer, A., and Quake, S.R. 2000. Monolithic Microfabricated Valves and Pumps by Multilayer Soft Lithography. Science, 288, 113-116.
    6. Thorsen, T., Maerkl, S.J. and Quake, S.R. 2002. Microfluidic large-scale integration. Science,298, 580-584.