Gold Medal
Best Model
Best Foundational Advance Project

UTokyo 2022 Project

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- Optogenetic Passcode System for Greater Safety & Security -

Q. How can we promote the development of synthetic biology in the real world?

Biosafety and biosecurity are key for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to be applied and solve real world issues. For example, in chemical production synthetic biology has seen dramatic development, giving us cheaper, cleaner, and more sustainable ways to produce chemical substances. However, not having a sufficient system to prevent biosafety and biosecurity issues has been a significant impediment to the spread of these advances in society.


The spread of GMOs in an uncontrolled environment presents an unknown risk to biosafety. While the outcome of artificial genes and organisms spreading into nature is still unclear, it can be expected that natural ecosystems could be significantly disturbed. This shared concern has led to international legislation, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.


Governance and transparency of technological development processes are important to gain a broad public understanding and advance in the field. We must monitor more strictly than ever the off-purpose use of research and its deliverables, which is likely to cause unintended consequences. In the context of synthetic biology, GMOs and their gene sequences should be protected from nefarious interests. Currently, the main countermeasures are contracts, and it is necessary to envisage ways of applying security that go beyond legal restraints to counter theft by malicious third parties, including diversion to biological weapons.
Our Answer:
This year, iGEM UTokyo presents Optopass,
an optogenetic passcode system for microorganisms.
Using our unique approach combining "Light" and "Order" as the stimuli for yeast,
our system promotes greater safety and security for the future of synthetic biology.

Why optogenetics?

Optogenetics is a technology that enables high temporal control of gene expression through light. This technology makes Optopass cheaper, safer and easier to handle. We chose red, blue, and green or Ultraviolet B (UV-B) light as a trigger.

Why order?

Simply controlling yeast by light is not enough to ensure security. Instead of the combination of lights, we use the order of light exposure as stimuli since it amplifies the number of possible stimuli to make the passcode stronger. The desired substance is produced only when we illuminate the right color of light in the right order.

Kill switch

The kill switch is triggered if the yeast gets the wrong passcodes or is exposed to light containing a wide range of wavelengths, such as sunlight. From a safety aspect, this switch makes it almost impossible for GMOs to survive in the natural environment. From a security aspect, by fragmenting the genes in this process, we have also made it difficult to reconstruct sequences from dead organisms. Additionally, as the advanced Optopass system, we invented a dummy system that achieves building more reliable security.

For more information, see our Description page.

How did we find the implementation of Optopass?

We conducted 24 human practices to explore ways to spread Optopass in society. The system was refined through discussions with companies, researchers, and citizen science experts. Finally, we realized that Optopass has the functions for safety and security, and can be a breakthrough tool to integrate them, and we worked out concrete applications of Optopass for each end-user.

For more information, see our Integrated Human Practices page.

How did we spread synthetic biology?

iGEM UTokyo has created educational material called "Genochemy" that contributes to the further development of synthetic biology. The software enables anyone with Internet access to learn synthetic biology visually and experience the engineering process regardless of their knowledge of biology or access to a wet lab. It also helps iGEM teams to present their projects in a simplistic yet convincing way.

For more information, see our Details of Education page.
You can play Genochemy here.