Team:NTHU Taiwan/HP/Silver

Silver HP

Core Idea of Human Practice

"Human Practices is the study of how your work affects the world, and how the world affects your work." — Peter Carr, Director of Judging.

According to the definition of Human Practice from iGEM, each team should interact with the whole society, to figure out what the world lacks and to dedicate our ability to the needs. In our team, the cares of the environment and human health are the ultimate goals. The crisis triggered by Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) has not only been forgotten gradually by us after the Vietnam War since the contaminated regions are narrowed in certain places, few and few people pay attention to these dangerous chemicals.

Illegal Factories

Knowing nothing about Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) perhaps is not the most dangerous thing for everyone; however, when the producers cunningly utilize this ignorance and gradually violate the laws and our right, it could be dreadful. Step by step, things will become irretrievable.

[ Figure. 1 ] The aerial views of Taichung urban area. Numerous illegal factories (signed by red color) erected among the agriculture or aquaculture assigned area. Can we feel more confident about our environment or our food?

According to the data from Council of Agriculture of Executive Yuan, we have found out that there are many illegally factories established outside the industrial zones; most of them are set in the agricultural area where is not under governmental control. The illegitimate planets are usually the sources of various pollutants — heavy metals, the organic solvent, EDCs, and thermal pollution, etc. These situations result from the high price of agricultural lands, and it turned out that the peasants need to sell their lands for the living or transfer them to light industry. EDCs are just generated by this type of light industry and primary industry, like textile industry, paper manufacture, pesticides manufacture, plastic industry, chemical engineering (detergent, surface active agent production, emulsifier, modifier), and lacquer industry, etc.

Potential targets

In our Human Practice, eliminating the potential pollution sources of EDCs seems to be impossible because there are countless cases need to be handled. All we can do is to ensure that our rivers and ditches are monitored all the time by governmental inspection. Based on these points, organic agriculture and exquisite aquaculture should be our ultimate goals to serve for and strive hard for.

[ Figure. 2 ] Searching Platform of Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan.

Organic Agriculture

Take the application to organic agriculture, for example, it requires several field investigations for applying the organic certification. So far, we only focus on the design of EDCs detector, but with our current structure of Internet of Things (IoT) and smartphone APP, it is not difficult to integrate other detectors in the future. At present, we are also discussing with iGEM WLC about how to combine their test strips of Escherichia coli with our system. Then, back to the farmers, the main problems they generally encounter are the expensive application fee for certificates, the arduous accreditation process, remnant pollution in the midstream and downstream, the lack of post-tracking and so on. If we can use our instrument in the future, accomplishing the goal of detection, then it would not only largely reduces the cost but also saves a lot of time, and even executes a long-term real-time examination. For the government, the powerful examination system can help trace the pollutants based on the concentration gradient and find out the illegal factories. Moreover, it can also be used to discover potential farmlands for organic agriculture in order to elevate the land value. Under the fast-growing trend of the organic agriculture in the world, we believe that we can become a pioneer to accelerate its growth, to promote the competitiveness and to make more contribution to human’s health and environmental protection.

[ Figure. 3 ] Shulin District of New Taipei City. This area is full of tangerine farms with lots of illegal textile factories aside (signed by red color). The textile industry uses Nonyl Phenol as the emulsifier, which is the main EDC target we are dealing with. These factories could post substantial threats on the farm and orchard.

[ Figure. 4 ] The world retail sales of organic products In 2015. There is 75 million Euro market of organic products around the world, where the USA is the most potential area.

[ Figure. 5 ] The bar chart of the organic farm area growth in different continents from 2005 to 2012. As the chart has shown, the Oceania continent owns the largest area of organic agriculture all the time, and the Northern America however, has the smallest organic agricultural area. One thing that worth to notice, even Northern America has the smallest area, their market is the largest one though.

[ Figure. 6 ] The growth rate of organic farm area in Taiwan. During the past 10 years, the area of organic farm have climbed up to 5847 hectares which is 5 times a decades ago.(source : cast net ROC)

Quality Aquaculture

The production of global aquaculture has risen annually owing to the exhaustion of marine resources and the population exploration, nevertheless, the food quality didn’t derive deserved care and been improved enough. Take Taiwan for example, the water for aquaculture is always drawn from groundwater, but the groundwater is highly risky to be polluted by the nearby illegal factories and the fishermen do not have effective tools to prevent it. In addition, Fisherman usually keeps fish in high density for cost down, which results in the serious sanitary problem. Moreover, a large amount of antibiotic and hormone blended in mash are widely used to keep survival rate. In the end, the wastewater will be discharged without sewage disposal. What’s worse, it contaminates the source and nature through the water cycle. If the fishermen could try our system for monitor and bring the information to the public, the customers can purchase at ease. It promotes not only the added value of aquaculture but also human’s welfare and environmental protection. Our ultimate purpose is to increase people’s faith in aquaculture and decrease the reliance of wild aquatic products at the same time.

For these goals, we have visited several institutions, experts, and potential users, looking for the real condition. In addition, we make a piece of the questionnaire to investigate the people’s opinion and hope to perfect our plan. The good news is that what we have presumed before is likely to be true - our project is right for our society!!! It’s a great deal of encouragement for us. In conclusion, what we want to do now is try our best to accomplish this project, hoping that it will continuously influence our world forever.

[ Figure. 7 ] The aerial views of Yunlin coastline area. Blue area is aqua fields; light red one is illegal factories and on the left-hand side are the Sixth naphtha Cracking Plant of Formosa Plastics Group. According to a trustable statistic data shown these years, the residents living there are under the threat of rising rate of the cancer population though the exact causes are not sure.

[ Figure. 8 ] World fishery industry during the past 15 years. As we can see, the demand for maricultural and inland aqua-cultural product both grew up in the past. Also, we can see a sharp upward trend on the aqua-cultural one which cannot be ignored.

[ Figure. 9 ] The bar chart of fish consumption by humanity. This chart tells us the aqua-cultural fish consumed by humanity is rising rapidly year by year, which also means that the impact of this food type will gradually dominant human health worldwide.(source : F.A.O. USA)

[ Figure. 10 ] The bar chart of annual production value v.s production amount in Taiwan from 1991 to 2004. As the production amount falls, the production value will then climbs. We hope our project could increase the added value to aqua-cultural industry so that both production amount and production value might increase together.(source : F.A. COA)

Human Practice

1. Visit expert

(1) Institute of Environmental Engineering, National Chiao Tung University
-wastewater treatment perceptions
-review our project
-provide professional suggestion

(2) Department of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh
-invite Assistant Professor Warren C. Ruder, PITT, Professor Wen-Liang Chen, NCTU and Professor Chao-Min Cheng, NTHU, to review our project
-share our project with “NCTU iGEM” mutually

2. Institution meetup

The Wastewater treatment plant of Science Park
-visit the whole plant and monitoring station with a detailed explanation by the expert
-investigation and sampling

3. Field investigation

(1) Visit organic farmers investigate the source of water and the used degree of fertilizer of their farms
-farms locate on high terrain or higher altitude than the factories
-irrigating water won’t flow out to other areas
-the fertilizer they use is farming residue.

(2) Aquacultural base investigation
-the selection of water origin
-the control of water quality
-the customer of fish farm

4. Seminars

(1) Co-organized Taiwan iGEM Conference
-creativity and brainstorming activity
-think out of the box
-crossover integration
-deal with the real issue around the world

(2) 2017 5th Asia Pacific Conference
-build up the several bridges of our following collaboration chances
-practice our presentation and convey our project idea to others
-realize other team’s work: find some excellent work and been inspired

Public engagement

Social opinion investigation

(1)preference for aquatic products
(2)investigate the public opinions toward the organic vegetables and fruits
(3)learn people’s understanding of EDCs and whether they have the awareness of the crisis and the motivation to solve the problems.

2. iGEM Tech.

(1)spread expertise in our project
-EDCs background information
-related technique
(2)discuss topics with people


1. GF Competition and Workshop of Ministry of Economic Affairs

-independent social investigation
-detector integration

2. iGEM WLC: Wisconsin Lutheran College ( USA )

-independent social investigation
-detector integration: E. coli detecting

3. iGEM UoA: The University of Auckland ( New Zealand )

-independent social investigation
-device blueprint offer: temperature sensing system

4. iGEM NYMU: National Yang Ming University ( Taiwan )

-photobioreactor offer

5. iGEM NAU: Nanjing Agricultural University ( China )

-troubleshooting: protocols
-technique exchange: data collection, model designing, and hardware modeling

6. iGEM NCKU: National Cheng Kung University ( Taiwan )

-Data exchange: Aquaculture questionnaire results
-detector integration: nitrate detector integration

7. iGEM TU Delft: Technische Universiteit Delft ( Netherlands )

-Experiment check
-Experiment promote discussion

8. Department of Industrial Design Shih Chien University( Taiwan )

-3D model built-up
- Simulation discussion

Visit Experts

(1) Visit Institute of Environmental Engineering, NCTU

This summer, we visited researchers in Institute of Environmental Engineering, NCTU, whose study mainly focus on wastewater treatment. They reviewed our project and provided some suggestion for us.

1. Since enzyme producing technique is not yet mature enough to date, we should reinforce more on detection so that we can increase the efficiency of enzyme usage.
2. Agricultural wastewater has more than an imaginable amount of aerobic particles. Even if the water seems clean, it will still block the filter system in minutes. We should re-design our structure.
3.Activated carbon can only act well under the good water condition that is, containing only ions or extremely few molecules.

[ Figure. 1.1.3-1 ] The researcher in IEE of NCTU( right one) and us.

Institution meetup

(1) The Wastewater treatment plant of Science Park

When we talk about water disposal, the first thing comes into our mind would be wastewater treatment plant (WTP) since most water that is contaminated or used by humanity would all eventually go to WTP. Thus, WTP becomes our primary target for practicing and working out our idea. In September, we went to WTP of National Science Park for investigation and sampling. There were three engineers in WTP who helped us realize the whole plant including monitoring station. We learned much about how WTP dispose of the wastewater step by step and also how they control the system:

1. Before entering the plant, nearly most wastewater has undergone treatment by each company. Actually, the inlet water is not that dirty as what we supposed but it still contains lots of metal ions and molecules that need to be rid of. And in these years, the main issue in WTP is ammonia nitrogen degradation. Targets like EDCs are not what WTP concern, engineer Chang said. EDCs’ concentration in wastewater is too low since the water coming in from all sorts of factories dilute it. The main harmful substances left are still a lot of ammonia nitrites and heavy metals added by Chang.

2. The visit to the monitoring station helped us a lot in dry lab design. This plant is one of the most novel plants which applies testing Ammonia nitrides disposal plant and an alto control system. This testing plant is built because of the rising attention of Ammonia nitrides and the alto control system installed for the purpose of reduction of complicated control steps. Unfortunately, the first renovation, again, implies that EDCs probably is not a priority WTP. However, the alto control system does make us realize the importance of automatic control system and IoT(internet of things). Since the engineers, all use the smartphone APP to receive first information of every disposal plant so it inspired us to develop an APP and we made it !!! On the other hand, Based on the prototype alto-control system we have seen there, we conceived an idea to combine alert, buzzer, e-mail, newsletter and a real-time website displayer etc., that is, the IoT concept, and we have finished the construction of e-mail and smartphone newsletter thanks to the techniques offered by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The purposes of building IoT is simple - we can reduce the risk of mistake or omission. Also, we want to unify every controller, monitors, meter and everything that is involved all together so that it would be easier to manage and has a larger space to expand other functions; for example, adding varies sensors for different chemicals or even microbes.

[ Figure. 2.1.2-1 ] Visit to WTP in National Science Park. Orientation before field visit.

[ Figure. 2.1.2-2 ] Visit to WTP in National Science Park. Field visit to the treatment tanks.

[ Figure. 2.1.2-3 ] Visit to WTP in National Science Park. Monitor station guidance.

Field investigation

(1) Visit organic farmers

We had two interviews with organic farmers. The first interviewees were the owner of three organic farms, and the crops include gourds, fruits, mushroom, cereal grain, and vegetables. We investigate the source of water and the used degree of fertilizer of their farms. The result shows that the farms locate on high terrain or higher altitude than the factories. Plus, the irrigating water won’t flow out to another area, and the fertilizer they use is farming residue. As a result, there is no doubt of pollution.

After changing the direction of our project, we had another interview which focuses on the management of organic agriculture. We tried to figure out what predicament the farmers face and whether the statistics reflect the fact or not. And the result seems favorable to our project for the reason that the certification of organic agriculture needs at least three years and cost $5000 per year. Such threshold is unfriendly to normal farmers and inefficient. Since there are many bottlenecks in the process of organic agriculture, nearly no profit can be earned from it. First of all, there are many uncontrolled plant diseases and insect pests and natural disasters. Moreover, these agricultural products are not improved Breeds. They not only have low yield but also have bad appearances. Furthermore, labor costs are really high, so they are much more expensive than normal agricultural products. There are too many drawbacks that violate the principle of market competition, and it’s difficult to apply. In consequence, it’s tough to attract farmers to join the ranks of organic agriculture. According to farmers’ dictation, the reason why they want to transform is that the idea, interest, and stable economic ability.

[ Figure. 3.1-1 ] Visit organic beekeeper, owner from Ying Hsang farming resort. We try to realize the surrounding environment of an organic bee farm, hoping that our device could help better it.

[ Figure. 3.1-2 ] Visit A-Hsiung and A-Pu organic mushroom stand. Mushroom cultivation is a quality agriculture that every single drop of water matters. They need an extraordinary fine water monitor system, which is where we can cooperate with!

What we can do is to lower the threshold and the cost of an application so as to track for a long period and make transformation faster and easier. And this may attract many farmers to join the ranks of organic agriculture. Eventually, the farmers mentioned that it is hard to avoid contamination. As long as they use the water in the downstream of the river, it is impossible to get a license. Land in Taiwan is too small, so the farms are close to each other. Once there is a non-organic agriculture nearby, pesticide and fertilizer will pollute their own farm indirectly.

[ Figure. 3.1-3 ] We interviewed one of the famous organic farmer, Ron Chi farm’s owner in Hsinchu, who shared us many dilemmas that most organic farmers faced nowadays.

(2) Aquacultural base investigation

Through the visit to the fish farm, we understand more about seem-to-be-easy fish aquaculture, which is actually connected with a lot of techniques; aside from the application of new tech concepts, there are more experience heritage and mutual cooperation from neighborhood; for example, judging the typhoon’s impact on the fish farm from the path of typhoon, the fishermen should adopt different kinds of precaution measurements depending on whether the typhoon comes from the Pacific Ocean or the Philippine Sea, or they have to apply the concepts of food chains in order to shunt the water stream to different fish pools for water cleaning; it can increase the water cycle and decrease the water waste, and moreover avoid the pollution caused by water purification chemicals. These techniques cannot be learned from school education or textbooks; this kind of experience inheritance combines with the development new technology is what we aim to move forward on our traditional agriculture. It’s a pleasure for me to learn this much about various industries in this visit.

The selection of water origin

The standard of water quality is not that high for common adult fish farming farms—the water source is mainly derived from the underground water mixing with seawater to a proper salinity. It controls the oxygen content through the cultivation of red and green algae, with a rare requirement of filtration.

The control of water quality

Generally speaking, the control of water quality is mainly the observation about the quantity of alga to judge the oxygen content; the green alga in water is excessive, which means the oxygen content is too high, while the red alga is too much, which indicates the oxygen is too low. When it rains, the rain would bring the air pollution or the frontal would take the germs from another area to the water, resulting in water contamination, requiring the pharmacy to cleanse the quality and sun-dried of the pond for sterilization.

The newest methods of water condition maintenance is to exchange the pond waters to make both automatic depuration with a method of biological capture; for instance, the water for mullet farming swaps with the one for conch cultivation, using the conch to clean the excreta or food residue and then drain to the gutters so that the water would not cause eutrophication.

The customer of fish farm

The main customer group depends on the types of the fish variety. For the ordinary fish variety, it will be sold directly to market or market makers, but for the rare type, like eels, it will mostly send to market makers. For more special type—indoor fish farming, it’s mainly for the fish with supper commercial value, especially for fry, such as eel larvae. This fish variety requires higher technique and expenditure; the relatively larger-scale farmers would own the pond and there are specific sale accesses.

[ Figure. 3.2-1 ] This field investigation to our potential customers. Many pieces of evidence show that aquaculture posts a lot of environmental issues.