CAGEN: Critical Assessment of Genetically Engineered Networks

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The Critical Assessment for Genetically Engineered Networks (CAGEN) competition is intended to drive new approaches to designing robust, synthetic biological circuits. The competition is targeted at teams of established researchers designing circuits that implement a given function and the assessment of their circuit's performance across a set of multiple operating environments.

The CAGEN competition is sponsored by the Keck Foundation, as part of the National Acadamies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI).

Overview of the Competition

The Critical Assessment for Genetically Engineered Networks (CAGEN, pronounced "cajun") is a new competition designed to improve the robustness and performance of human-designed biological circuits and devices operating in cells. The competition is intended to bring together leading research groups in biological circuit design to compete to demonstrate their abilities at designing circuits that perform in a prescribed manner in a variety of cellular contexts. Each year, a steering committee will propose a challenge problem that involves the design of an increasingly complex set of biological functions in a range of environments. Teams must submit their sequences, plasmid DNA implementing their circuit and data characterizing the performance of their system against a specified test suite. The 3-5 best performing designs will be selected as finalists and results will be reviewed and verified by the CAGEN steering committee, who will then select the overall winner based on a set of quantitative metrics.

As part of a recent NAKFI proposal funded by the Keck Foundation, we are implementing the first iteration of the competition, including selecting the challenge problem, implementing a set of reference test protocols, announcing and publicizing the competition, implementing the selection process and choosing a winner. If successful, we believe that the competition can be proposed for continued funding from other sources and that over the medium term (5--10 years) CAGEN could lead toward a more robust set of biological design methods that allow human-designed circuits and devices to perform at levels closer to their biological counterparts.

Timeline for 2012 CAGEN competition

  • July 2010: first steering committee meeting; selection of draft competition specifications
  • October 2010: internal distribution of draft proposals to steering committee
  • January April 2011: candidate proposals posted for comment
  • April May 2011: selection of 2011 CAGEN challenged announced
  • May 2012: submission deadline
  • June 2012: selection of finalists

CAGEN steering committee

  • Adam Arkin (UC Berkeley)
  • Barry Canton (Ginkgo BioWorks)
  • Peter Carr (MIT Media Lab)
  • James Collins (Boston University)
  • Drew Endy (Stanford)
  • Eric Klavins (U. Washington)
  • Richard Murray (Caltech; PI)
  • Georg Seelig (U. Washington)
  • Pamela Silver (Harvard)
  • David Sprinzak (Tel-Aviv University)

How to Participate

Details on participation in the competition will be posted here at a future date.

External Resources

More information

Other critical assessment experiments and competitions

  • CASP - Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction
  • CAPRI - Critical Assessment of Prediction of Interactions