Building Better Bugs: The Sequel
OSLI's university student challenge (round two) on biosynthetic design through the iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machines) competition, supported by the Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT) and described in Building Better Bugs, resulted in a multi-national show of hands.
Four new proposals were sponsored by OSLI, providing healthy competition to first-round support winner University of Lethbridge with their 'enzymatic tailings degrading powder' – or lactose pill for tailings ponds. The four additional projects are:
TU Delft – the Netherlands
The TU Delft study is a collaboration of two universities from the Netherlands: the Leiden
University (molecular genetics & medicine) and the Technical University of Delft (bio‐chemical and process engineering). The TU Delft team is tackling the biological conversion of hydrocarbons in an aqueous environment, specifically the biological degradation of oil particles in oil sands' tailings water. The basis of their project is generating a "biological chassis", which provides the framework for varying and multiple characteristics needed for the conversion of hydrocarbons. Characteristics they're working to build into this biological chassis include conversion ability of hydrocarbons, hydrocarbon tolerance/solubility and halo (salt) tolerance. As highlighted in this Dutch National News story, this research has potential application to oil spills in addition to cleaning oil particles in tailings ponds.
University of Michigan – USA
The University of Michigan's iGEM project is to create a 'biofilm', using genetically engineered bacteria specifically designed to optimize degradation of toxins (especially naphthenic acids), in order to cost-effectively bioremediate tailings pond water. This biofilm would be on a 'washboard' type structure. Tailings water would be pumped over the biofilm covered washboard, creating optimal conditions for accelerated breakdown of organic molecules and speeding bioremediation.
University of Toronto – Canada
The University of Toronto's goal in its iGEM project is to use metabolic channelling to augment the known existing capabilities of a degrading microbe to accelerate bioremediation of tailings ponds. Metabolic channelling is a process that helps organize the spatial pathways of microorganisms, such as enzymes, that naturally degrade the organic molecules in tailings ponds. The U of T proposes to decrease 'transit time' for these bioremediation microbes and sequester toxic ones by controlling the spatial constructs (or pathways) that these bioremediation microbes use.
University of Debrecen – Hungary
The goal of the team at the University of Debrecen in Hungary is to widen the available types of sensors in the iGEM Parts Registry by generating a Nuclear Receptor Kit that will allow for the measurement of a new class of molecules: the lipids. Nuclear receptors are lipid sensors that can be found in all multi-cellular animals. The iGEM Parts Registry already has sensors for physical properties, magnetic and electric fields, molecules and internal states. U of D proposes to build this new type of sensor tool that could later be used to develop biological systems that could modify bitumen, detect and measure contaminants and/or process contaminants in water.
These teams, which have received varying levels of support from OSLI, had the summer to work on their projects. The MIT iGEM competition Jamboree is held in Cambridge Massachusetts on November 5-8.