Cornell University Genetically Engineered Machines

Collaboration with Ecovative


Our collaboration with Ecovative proved challenging yet rewarding. Since few iGEM teams have partnered with a corporation in the past, we were faced with the task of developing a new approach to safely apply our research in synthetic biology to a consumer-ready product. Ecovative supported our efforts by giving us tours of their facilities and advice on protoplasting fungi. They also offered to grow our strains and conduct material testing on our genetically engineered product. Ecovative can begin to implement our research once it reaches completion.

TEDTalk by Gavin McIntyre, the co-founder and chief scientist of Ecovative

History of Corporate Partnerships

The iGEM organization has a strong history of developing tools to support industries in need. However, most of these results are lost post-competition as a result of a lack of funding and awareness. We believe that one of the novelties of our project is the direct collaboration with a corporation and the continuation of the genetically engineered product after competition. Our work with Ecovative ensures that Organofoam will continue solving a pressing environmental issue.

In previous years, teams have received corporate sponsorships but have rarely found a company willing to insert their research into a consumer market. Last year, our team had a very close relationship with the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative. OSLI is a collaborative network of companies operating in the Canadian oil sands that sponsored iGEM teams to develop new technologies to address challenges in oil sands extraction and reclamation. Teams had the opportunity to submit their research as a solution to Canada’s current oil sands problems. Although some teams did receive recognition from OSLI, the work has yet to make an impact on the current issues facing the OSLI corporations [1]. Teams have also attempted partnerships with local farms, technology groups, and breweries, but have yet to successfully market their research to any of these companies [2].

Some iGEM teams believe they can use their research to promote a nonprofit organization. In 2012, the Wellesley team partnered with the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and encouraged the development of software tools to advance the way medical patients interact with computers [3]. The team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison worked with a Great Lakes research center to increase awareness of pollution in the lakes [4]. These cooperative efforts between teams and nonprofits promote the iGEM foundation’s mission as a nonprofit organization. However, they usually end after the competition along with the projects.

With the support of a company, we are confident that our work will continue to have a positive effect on Ecovative’s manufacturing process and, as a result, the environmental issue of Styrofoam pollution.

Direct Application of Our Fungal Toolkit

Our novel approach this year encouraged us to tailor a scientific project to the needs and goals of a collaborator. From the beginning of our brainstorming process, we have been focusing on how we can use the tools available to us to support Ecovative's work. Our goal has always been to fit the company's needs and ensure that our results are safe for the company to implement upon completion. We stayed in constant contact with Ecovative about how our research could play a role in the manufacturing process, keeping in mind during the design and execution of our project that our work could affect a product that is currently serving a growing market.

Following the completion of our fungal toolkit, Ecovative will have the ability to use the genetic parts to directly facilitate their own wetlab work and manufacturing process. Our biosafety constructs will allow for the removal of any resistance markers that we may introduce to prevent horizontal gene transfer in the spirit of environmental sustainability. At the same time, our project has vast future applications, including bioremediation, pharmaceutical production, and the creation of other useful biomaterials.

In this way, our project will have an impact beyond completion, distinguishing our team from others and refocusing the core goal of the iGEM competition: to create synthetic biological tools to solve real world problems.


1. Sponsors - (n.d.). iGEM 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from

2. Collaborations. (n.d.). Team: Boston University iGEM 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from

3. Acknowledgement. (n.d.). Team Wellesley HCI iGEM 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from

4. Thank Sponsors. (n.d.). Team:Wisconsin-Madison iGEM 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from