This year, Queen’s iGEM Outreach Team directed a three-part interview series to complement our project's focus on novel methods for Arctic oil remediation. These interviews touch on topics of pollution treatment, bioremediation, toxicity of bitumen, and antifreeze proteins, as discussed with experts in chemical engineering, environmental sciences, and molecular biology (Dr. Ramsay, Dr. Hodson, and Dr. Walker respectively). This interview series aims to spark conversations about whether we are taking the right steps towards a future less dependent on oil.
Dr. Juliana Ramsay
Dr. Ramsay is a professor of Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University. Her research projects focus on fermentation and product recovery, pollution treatment, and bioremediation. Thus, QGEM interviewed Dr. Ramsay for her expertise on bioremediation, asking for her thoughts on our project about arctic oil remediation. Dr. Ramsay has contributed to multiple encyclopedias, including the Encyclopedia of Polymer Science and Technology.
Background: B.Sc. (Hons), Bacteriology and Immunology, Western University (1979), M.Sc., University of Texas at El Paso (1981),
Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, McGill University (1987); Supervisors: Dr. Cooper and Dr. Neufeld.
Dr. Peter Hodson
Dr. Hodson is an emeritus professor for the School of Environmental Sciences and the Department of Biology at Queen’s University. Dr. Hodson’s work in environmental studies has impacted industrial regulations. Thus, leading to his status as an invited member of a Royal Society Expert Panel on the behaviour and environmental impacts of crude oil released into aqueous environments.
Background: B.Sc., Physiology, McGill University (1968), M.Sc., Biology, University of New Brunswick (1970), Ph.D., Zoology, University of Guelph (1974).
Dr. Virginia Walker
Dr. Walker is a professor of the Biology Department at Queen’s University. She is known for both her teaching style and her research, as she has won the Best Lecturer Award (2010) and the Prize for Excellence in Research (2016). Dr. Walker is part of the Towards a Sustainable Fishery for Nunavummuit project, which will provide data for monitoring impacts of future disturbances and climate change. The focus of this interview is on her work on ice-binding proteins.
Background: B.Sc. (Hons), Acadia University, MSc, Acadia University, PhD, University of Calgary, Post Doctoral Fellowship,
Cambridge University; Supervisor: Dr. Ashburner.
Using the plethora of information we received from this interview series, QGEM has made several considerations on how we would implement our project into the real world as scalable, effective, and safe method of oil spill bioremediation. Several factors need to be taken into consideration, which include the design of an appropriate bioreactor to ensure a controlled growth environment for our biofilm, safety precautions to ensure the prevention of environmental contamination, ways of optimizing hydrocarbon exposure for M. hydrocarbonoclasticu, and methods we can use to assess the functionality of our biofilm.
Some considerations for our bioreactor design include:
- Providing the optimal growth temperature, pH, and nutrient level to support the growth of both E. coli and M. hydrocarbonoclasticus
- Using suitable material to build our bioreactor to avoid environment-related damage (M. hydrocarbonoclasticus may prefer halophilic conditions; this would mean avoiding the use of metals)
- Balancing the amount of control vs cost for bioreactor design
Other design additions that could be made to our biofilm to ensure optimal functionality include:
- Addition of a quorum sensing system to regulate the expression of CsgA-AFP vs CsgA-SpyTag (after reaching a certain population density, allows for increased binding of M. hydrocarbonoclasticus for increased oil degradation)
- Increasing the presence/secretion of solutes to prevent cell desiccation if biofilm is growing in a cold environment
- Applying oil dispersants to break down oil slick into smaller micelles, making oil droplets more accessible to biofilm bacteria by increasing surface area
To test our biofilm and ensure that a reduction in petroleum compounds occurs, we could:
- Use CYP1A cytochrome P450 expression and activity as a biomarker to test for poly-aromatic hydrocarbon toxicity in marine organisms with and without treatment using our biofilm