Yesterday at the iGEM awards, I had another massive experience that took me completely by surprise. This year, they introduced a new award, The Chairman's Award, which is picked by Randy Rettberg (the chair) as the team who best represents the spirit of the iGEM event: curiosity, hard work, intellectual honesty, etc. When he headed up to give it, as the penultimate award before the top prizes, he told me: "Why don't you come up too... you know the team."
And so it was that I came to be onstage again, once again in front of that massive audience of 2500 genetic engineers from around the world, to shake hands with our wonderful scrappy underdog team from Sumbawa, Indonesia, and give a totally unprepared and off the cuff speech in praise of their outstanding efforts.
I talked about how I was proud and humbled by having them in our new measurement track.
I talked about how, when I spent time talking with them at their poster, they told me "We are new, but we have confidence because have great heart."
I talked about how they were doing real genetic engineering addressing real problems in their local community, at a university that was only one year old.
I talked about how they were worried they could not be a measurement team, because their cell phone cameras could not measure green fluorescence. We told them a negative result was still a useful result, and they sent us beautiful documentation of the fact that their cell phone cameras measured all the samples the same.
I talked about how they had engaged the local community, teaching honey farmers to pipette and helping them understand synthetic biology and its potential value in their lives.
I talked about how they had gotten religious support for their genetic engineering from the local imam and the local priest.
I'm crying again just writing about it.
I hope that somebody was taking a video, because I'd like to share it with you. More importantly, however, I want to stop talking, and let you see them explain their project in their own words: