Welcome to the introductory post for the Purdue Biomakers’ 2016 iGEM project. Please look forward to weekly updates as we work toward the completion of our project in time for the Giant Jamboree in Boston, MA at the end of October.
Clean water is a fundamental necessity of human life. Thus, humans have developed methods for transforming dirty or polluted water into clean, safe water that can be used for a variety of purposes; however, traditional wastewater treatment does not recapture valuable components, such as bioavailable phosphorus. The 2016 iGEM project takes a holistic look at the water cycle and how synthetic biology can be implemented to improve water treatment. It was designed in two parts: A modular system for bioremediation, and expression of organic nanowires in E. coli for eventual use in energy generation and desalination. The initial inspiration and focus for the bioremediation system was the growing concern over bioavailable phosphorous. In combination with a separate interest in the creation of a more efficient microbial fuel cell (MFC), the fluffy white clouds of a dream took shape–a self-contained unit containing E. coli capable of processing wastewater by uptaking luxury amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen, and other impurities, generating electricity, and facilitating desalination. In goes grimy, opaque water, polluted by industry, agriculture, and daily living, and out comes clear, sparkling water, pure as alpine snow. Fantastic, right?
In taking steps to make this dream a reality, the team will be inserting DNA from phosphorus-accumulating organisms (PAOs) into E. coli to increase the phosphorus uptake of these microbial cells. Additionally, a separate E. coli strain will be engineered to include genes from Shewanellaoneidensis (Shewe) in an effort to express organic nanowires, a feat that has never before been accomplished. Can we do it? Yes, we can! Below is a high-level timeline of major project milestones, and below that image is a photo of Shewe courtesy of Yuri Gorby, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, because it looks cool.