Penn iGEM

Human Practices Overview

Epigenetic Therapy: Too Soon to Treat?

Epigenetic phenomena are known to be at the root of many common diseases. To date, the FDA has approved four epigenetic therapies that show promising results, prolonging lives of terminal cancer patients. However, there is a relative lack of knowledge about epigenetic effects in the long-term and across generations, so epigenetic therapies may have unforeseeable risks if they are used on younger people with non-lethal epigenetic diseases. In this report, we propose a heightening of standards for epigenetic therapy: therapies should be targeted to specific genes in specific cells, patients’ epigenomes should be sequenced before and after treatment, and germline effects should be unacceptable. Moreover, more research should be performed to answer questions about transgenerational epigenetic effects, the effects of altered epigenomes in the long term, and to develop superior assays for screening epigenomes.


PennApps is the largest college hackathon in the world. Teams ranging from 1-4 members spent 48 sleepless hours developing the next big thing in the world of software. Our team opted to merge the fields of synthetic biology and computer science by developing an open source platform to analyze gel electrophoresis data. We ended up turning our hack into a software package as part of our project and presenting this to over 2,000 participants and spectators. We can proudly say that we developed the only application, of over 200 entries, that helps accelerate the pace of scientific discovery. Although our audience was not specialized in synthetic biology, our application was well received among the computer science community at Penn.


Our team held a continuous dialog about the history, ethics, and future directions of synthetic biology with members of the community. We spoke with members of all social and age groups, ranging from educated Penn students and professors to less fortunate West Philadelphia local children and adults. We feel that our efforts were well received, and the community has a better idea of what iGEM is and what the goal and role of synthetic biology is in the present and future.

Penn iGEM introducing synthetic biology to the largest hackathon
in the world - they've never had a team in lab coats before.

Mahamad shows a young student the successful results of a DNA
extraction experiment at a West Philadelphia outreach event.