Human Practices: Gold
Our team contacted and discussed with Edward Barry, from Argonne National Laboratory. He helped us further understand how our project can be applied into the real world and how we can potentially spread our project idea. His advice on how industry level research must meet high standards to pass into implementation was insightful and eye-opening and his suggestions on how to contact other companies and laboratories to spread word of our project was crucial to helping us reach out beyond our comfort zone. Argonne itself is one of the nation's top research centers with a history dating back to the Manhattan Project in 1940, but their Oleo Sponge which was built to respond to oil spills caught our attention which spurred us to meet up and talk to them about their experiences. We aimed to contact the laboratory in order to see the greater application of our own project. Their perspective on how ideas are developed and then transformed into working products were valuable and helped us conceptualize the process of making our ideas into reality. From this discussion we were able to change our applied design section. Their suggestion was for us to have a sponge with our degrading bacteria implemented within. However, with this new idea, our design transformed into the idea of having the water w/oil being pumped into a separate factory. Sponges would then be placed into the water and oil mixture where the former will soak up oil and the degradation process would take place inside the sponge. This method is a large improvement from before because now the oil would be controlled in one area as opposed to being ambiguously spread out.
British Petroleum BioSciences Center
Our CCA iGEM team met and presented in front of scientists from the BP BioSciences Center. The scientists were kind enough to offer feedback and give us some guidance on our project. This meeting provided for us a way to spread awareness of our project to professional biology companies in San Diego and obtain feedback from veterans of the field. We met up with them at their headquarters in San Diego, where we had the chance to pick at the brains of their scientists and representatives. We got to hear their side of the story on the issue of BP’s infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including some of the innovations they came up with to deal with millions of gallons of oil flooding into the ocean. Our work on creating a genetically modified organism that could fill that niche was noted by the scientists, and they took great interest on how heavy duty mechanical cleanup could be joined with the microbial approach. They mentored us on how to properly test our product, suggesting we look into dispersants as a way of dissolving and isolating the oil from the water. We learned a lot about how the oil industry has dedicated significant amounts of research and development into oil spill response, and we’re glad to be involved in that front.
In order to gain more perspective about our project, our CCA iGEM team met up to discuss the idea with scientists from Synthetic Genomics, Inc. They went into detail on the similarities between our project and their work and gave us advice on how to approach making our idea into a reality, having worked in the field before. One method they suggested to us was to evaporate the crystals formed from PAHs. At the top of the plate, the clear area would be where the bacteria had degraded the PAH. Although we didn’t implement this technique right away, we hope to use it in the future in an attempt to improve our project. We were also offered a tour of their facilities, which was very enlightening, as we caught a glimpse of their workplace and the type of research they were conducting. They were very enthusiastic in explaining the uses of various equipment and introducing us to their current work on creating biofuels from bacteria, where they engineered yeast and algae to make oil. The result of this human practice event was an increased awareness of our project’s practicality in the real world and its relation to professional and highly recognized laboratories in San Diego.
Roger Prince is an expert in the oil remediation field who has won the prestigious North Jersey Section American Chemical Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the field of biochemistry and under Exxon for a variety of projects, notably in biological redox chemistry and biological energy systems with a focus on photosynthesis. Most importantly, he is the man who coined the term “bioremediation”, and his work in creating markers in the degradation pathways for hydrocarbons present in crude oil set the foundation for an entire field of biotechnology. He was the lead scientist at Exxon’s bioremediation monitoring team following the famous Exxon-Valdez spill, which lead to the largest oil cleanup program in history. As the preeminent pioneer of bioremediation, his 300+ papers have been cited nearly 20,000 times, but his work giving lectures and seminars for the next generation of scientists allowed us to contact him and ask him to review our project, which he was keenly intrigued by. His insight into the mechanics of our degradation pathway and the bacteria we sourced the pathways from allowed us to mold our experiments into an effective and innovative tool for the field that he created. We are endlessly thankful for his mentorship and time.
iGEM Goes Green
We have participated in iGEM GOES GREEN to consider a more eco-friendly way to work in our lab in the environment, which centers around the idea of raising awareness around the environmental impacts we, especially as members of iGEM, have on the world around us and how we can lessen the negative side effects of those impacts. Namely, iGEM Goes Green is focused on spreading awareness on what our carbon footprint is. Our project is supposed to help clean the environment and we want to be effective in our lab methods to make sure that we keep the environment clean, while researching a way to save it! In one of our many contact points with them, we - along with our school’s Ecology Club - sent suggestions for their Go Green Guide, a document that outlines exactly how one can conduct a more eco-friendly lifestyle in and out of the laboratory. We detailed the impact of several other processes (that did not deal with the conventional tips) concerning greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, Eco Club helped by planting a tree on our campus for the purpose of slightly compensating for our carbon footprint created by our flights to Boston, as well as to establish our collaboration with TU Dresden. For more information on this particular collaboration, click here.
The discussion led at the seminar provided insight for us towards improving the involvement behind the ethical implication of our project and the research it entailed. The topics discussed, along with the input from professors from UCSD, improved the understanding of the project in that we could now confidently expatiate upon what were not only the scientific implications, but also the ethical implications of our project. While discussing gene therapy and consequently, GMOs, we emphasized how GMOs weren’t necessarily harmful and how they could be of great benefit to the future field of science. In the lab, we championed this viewpoint by greatly increasing our consideration of ethical concerns in our experiment procedures and obtaining results. When introducing our project to other iGEM groups and professional companies, we made sure that we always included our ethical concerns into consideration when discussing possible improvements for our project. These ethical concerns were the forefront of our collaborations with the other teams and companies. For more information on the Bioethics Seminar, click here.
The results of the STEM days were the implementation of what we learned throughout our project. Survey results helped us realize that we had to increase public knowledge about synthetic biology and thus, we modified our project to be applicable to a wider field of application. Before we conducted these STEM Days, we only sought to engineer a bacteria that would degrade extremely specific compounds; however, after the STEM Days, we were aware that if we wanted our project product to be prevalent in the field of synthetic biology, we enlarged the significance of our bacteria to degrade PAHs in crude oil, and not just in the laboratory. Furthermore, because so many people were unaware of synthetic biology in their scientific community, we made sure that whenever we presented our project to children, we did so in order that they could understand the basic concepts of our project. For more information on Stem Days, click here.
iGEM Summer Camp
We have created two camps to educate students (1 week environmental-genetics as well as a physics and applied physics) on the science that is necessary to do effective and safe labwork, perform lab techniques safely, and apply concepts to understand the world around them. For more information on our camp, click here.
Having seen the effects of chemical pollutants on our beloved beaches firsthand during the beach cleanup, our team sought to tailor our project so that it would minimally affect the environment, including natural resources and animals, around us. Before this event, we mainly focused on the degradation of simple compounds, such as fluorene, phenanthrene, and naphthalene. After this event, upon discovering the deleterious effect of oil in the marine ecosystem, we decided to shift our focus to degrading crude oils and thus, to develop a bacteria that could degrade harmful substances of a greater scale. Philippe, our head of Lab, bought crude oil to test how our engineered bacteria would degrade this substance. For the results, click here.