Beyond the Bench!
Our human practice project focuses on how to move Indonesian state-of-the-art syhthetic biology project closer to real apllication. This is also the reason ITB_Indonesia 2017 project is a continuation of the 2014 previous project. We explored the possibilities of how PET-degrading bacteria can be used
At first, our radical approach is simply releasing Dewaruci (the name of the bacteria) to the open seas while minimizing the possibility of gene transfer. However, as we learned through interview with experts, this kind of approach will have to wait. We also traveled to various places in West Java and made a documentary to dive deep into the murky situation of Indonesia plastic pollution.
Roadmap for our bacteria application will be discussed in the Integrated Human Practice page.
Oceanography Expert Talks
We need to test our idea by interviewing stakeholders in micro-plastic research. We wanted to primarily know how micro-plastic forms in the perspective of Oceanography, followed by identifications of the most affected sectors. Dr. Ivonne Milichristi Radjawane has conducted researches on plastic debris in Pelabuhan Ratu Bay, Jakarta Bay, Bali Bay and Ambon Bay. She said, “There are two factors causing the plastic to accumulate in the sea, wave and current”. She also gave an insight into our project prospect, “75% of garbage thrown into the sea are plastic-based, Indonesia has been recently highlighted internationally as the second worst plastic polluters to the sea.”. According to her, the Indonesian government has been massively intensifying the work to reduce plastic pollution since then. “The government has a target to reduce plastic pollution up to 70% by the year 2020”, she said. She also suggests our team to conduct a survey on Jakarta Bay to see how the micro-plastics affect the locals there. “The research conducted in Makassar Strait proved micro-plastics inflict dreadful effects to marine lives, shown by guts of fish filled with micro-plastic fragments” she implied. Overall, she teaches us a valuable lesson for our project. Her perspective inspires us to develop an on-site application for our project.
Cidaun and Muara Angke
We took Dr. Ivonne’s suggestion to survey the local. Furthermore, we choose Cidaun and Muara Angke as the spots. Cidaun is located 123,5 km the south of Bandung, West Java while Muara Angke is one of a region in Jakarta Bay. Our journey began from Cidaun to Muara Angke. We visited a Cidaun fisherman named Hengki. He used to catch fish, sea urchins, lobster, and crab. According to him, plastic pollution mainly comes from nearby creek like Cilaki. “When the rainy season comes, the beach will be full of plastic debris first then proceed their journey the sea”. He also stated, “The plastic waste on beach varies in form, the large to tiny”. He implied a concern on plastic pollution in Cidaun as their number is getting bigger.
We continued our journey to Muara Angke. Muara Angke is one of the most famous fisherman villages. We asked a local there about the plastic pollution. "A kilogram of plastic could price IDR 6000 (0.44 USD)," said the local fisherman. However, if the plastic quality is poor, they will just throw them to the sea. This finding leaves us worried on what the plastic pollution might have caused to the Muara Angke marine biota.
Biological Safety Expert Talks
We wanted our project safely implemented as well as meet the government regulation. Therefore, We asked Dr. Sri Harjati Suhardi, an expert in environmental science from Bandung Institute of Technology, to discuss the idea of releasing our PET-degrading bacteria into open seas. Despite the increasing interest in genetic engineering in Indonesia, the government still prohibited the application of GMO for environmental purpose. “At least for now,” said Dr. Sri Harjati Suhardi as she sipped her coffee. “I have hopes that one day the government would allow its use for remediation purpose. It is our duty as a researcher to give suggestions to lawmakers.” Dr. Suhardi commented that releasing GMO to the sea has its own set of problem. Indonesia Sea is connected with everywhere else, which means more regulations. She supported the idea of using a bioreactor instead to degrade the heavily PET-polluted waters. “Start with a pilot project. Build a closed system where microbes are safely contained inside a reactor.” This form of treatment is not entirely new. One example, she explained, is anaerobic bioreactor using non-modified mixed culture. To anticipate the spread of pathogenic microbes, the effluent is disinfected with chlorinated compound, although some cells might be still alive. “We have to be careful with GMOs. They should be treated like pathogenic microbes. At the same time, we need to prove that they’re safe.” Proving the safety of GMO can bring Indonesia a step closer to lifting the ban.
According to her experience as a bioremediation practitioner, oil spill bioremediation process can take months. “There is a law for petroleum hydrocarbon that it gives us a time limit, up to 8-10 months for a cleanup project.” However, Indonesian law does not specify the minimum requirement of degradation rate for most xenobiotic compounds, including PET. “Besides petroleum hydrocarbon (as stated in ‘Kepmen LH No. 128 The year 2003’), there is no standard. So there is an opportunity to show how fast GMO technology can reduce damage in the ocean.” Afterwards, GMO use in environmental technology might truly be a part of the solution for everlasting PET wastes in the ocean. In conclusion, we gained a lot of perspective regarding our project. Her perspective also inspires us to develop a bioreactor concept design.
The Plastic Documentary
After visiting local fisherman in Cidaun and Muara Angke, we felt responsible sharing their struggle. We traced to where all the waste comes and from, it all leads to one site, Sarimukti Landfill.Therefore, we made a short documentary named after our project, Dewaruci. By making this short documentary, we hope the world could decrease its plastic pollution. Moreover, we want the world inspired as well as we have felt. The problem is bigger than the solution right now. It is our responsibility to increase the awareness first before increasing the number of potential solution. We hope this video could serve as an educational as well as an inspirational tool.
Dewaruci-Part I: Tracing the Problems
Dewaruci-Part II: Following the Line
Dewaruci-Part III: The Future to be Protected