Rethinking Wastewater Treatment
Our project revolved around a resource that has become a global issue: water. While two thirds of our planet are covered with water, freshwater is getting shorter and shorter. One reason for the decrease of freshwater is the salinization of groundwater and rivers caused by industrial wastewater pollution. We want to fight this problem with the help of synthetic biotechnology by creating Salt Vaults - yeast working as supercollectors to sequestrate salt ions in their vacuole.
To reach this goal, we took nature as a role model: Plants grow on oversalted grounds by accumulating salts in their vacuole. We modified the ion transport pathways of yeast by integrating import mechanisms from these plants, knocking out efflux mechanisms and overexpressing existing yeast import mechanisms.
- Creation of VAULTer, a yeast sequestrating 39% of the Sodium of a “seawater” medium
- Development of microbial supercollectors, successfully demonstrated with sodium and potassium
- Creation of yeast with increased halotolerance in comparison to wildtype
- Proof of ultrafiltration to prevent Salt Vaults from spreading into the environment
- Initiation of societal debate on genetic engineering in Germany
- Modelling of the novel ion pathways in mutated yeast
- Fundamental applied design, including nutrition, separation and after-use of yeast
- Assembly and submission of tested and functional BioBricks
- Development of an affordable peristaltic dosing system to enable continuous measurements
Is what we are working on worth it? How can we improve our project to have a more extensive impact on water treatment? We incorporated feedback from scientists, companies and the public to shape our project, while informing about the urgency of water scarcity and the possibilities of genetic engineering. We have conducted conversations with experts from many different backgrounds, visited schools and held presentations.
With the input we got, we talked to politicians, trying to make an impact on society and political environmental action itself.