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iGEM in Africa

Challenges and Obstacles

Egypt is one of the African countries that participated several times in iGEM. Starting from 2015 and up till now, only 6 Egyptian teams have participated and achieved different medals. From the very first time Egypt participated in the competition, there were too many obstacles that the teams faced during their journey. And here the 6th team from Egypt and the teams still face a lot of obstacles.

This page is to write about several obstacles that our team faced and how we tried to overcome them. We will also try to demonstrate and suggest some tips for the teams who will participate in the upcoming years.


Starting from the registration for the competition, we started January 2019 like regular iGEMers , we contacted several organisations to fund us with the registration fees. Funding undergraduate students is not that easy task to achieve, especially in the MENA region, we concluded that the university’s support would give us the credibility to be supported and funded by other companies.

So, we contacted our faculty dean Dr Abdelhamid El-Manawy about paying the registration fees after explaining our project and how this could be beneficial for the society and the university. He didn’t hesitate to contact our University’s president Dr Othman El-Khosht, who agreed to pay the registration fees, but our main problem was with time, several steps, approvals, letters and a lot of effort for money transaction to iGEM foundation, and guess what! We paid the fees on 29/4.

Preparation and team construction

Synthetic Biology

Building a team and recruiting others to be part of it, was one of the biggest obstacles. Synthetic Biology is a new field that’s not included yet in our curriculum, also not many doctors in Egypt know about this field, so we had to study it all by ourselves; we asked several doctors about this field and what we should study; they recommended several books to read. But, finally, we studied Synthetic Biology through a course on edx coursera, Biobuilders book and reading several previous iGEM projects. This took us about a year and a half to understand Synthetic Biology.

Team composition, subteams and management

As it was the first time for Cairo University to participate solely, we didn’t have much of experience that the other teams had on how to construct an iGEM team. Our team is composed of 10 team members, 8 of them are majoring in Biotechnology and Biomolecular Chemistry and 2 of them are from engineering background. This very limited number of members was a burden on our backs that resulted in lots of effort and hundreds of working hours weekly. Dividing the team to subteams with a representative and weekly goals would have been helpful but we didn’t have that luxury as it was the first time for us to have such an experience with this limited manpower.


CU iGEM team is the first team from Egypt to win Promega Grant, Arbor Bioscience cell-free kit sponsorship and Opentron Robot challenge. In Egypt, the main problem with exporting things from outside is that you have to get several security clearances, high customs and letters from our Faculty to release our products from customs. Also, the DNA sequences that we ordered from IDT, Twist Bioscience even the iGEM kit itself, they took a long time to be released from customs.

Giant jamboree

In iGEM to attend the competition itself in Boston, you have to pay 745-850$ for each member. For Egyptian teams as for every member to pay this sum of money, which is more than the tuition paid for enrolling in our faculty.

If you’re an Egyptian team and intending to participate anytime in iGEM, here are some tips you should do, so that everything will be a bit easier.

● Start studying, reading and preparing for the competition as early as you can.

● Talk to your institution about paying the registration fees, before the competition starts by months, as everything takes time and too many steps.

● After ordering any sequence from IDT, Twist biosciences or any other sponsor or company outside our country, start preparing the required letters for the release of the packages from customs even before their arrival.

● Talk to several companies as early as possible ‘after talking with your institute’ for fundraising opportunities, but be precise and prepare an extraordinary proposal.

● Contact us! We are more than happy helping any time! You can reach us on our social media platforms or via email:

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Cairo University 2019 iGEM Team