Gold Medal and Integrated Human Practices
Speaking with experts has been an enriching experience for the entire team, it has allowed us to improve our communication, working times, and the way that we do this work and how we perceive our own project. We must thank technology for giving us a wide range of communication forms, because it has not always been possible to establish an interview, using emails, phone calls, and video calls for people that weren’t in Santiago. Our experts can be classified in different subjects:
- Economy and profitability
- The place of sacrifice: Puchuncavi
- State organizations
It took us by chance that at the beginning of the year an MIT workshop was organized to strengthen start-ups, and due to the fact that it took place in our university, we were able to participate free of charge. We learned to observe the market and present a solution in the best way possible. We assisted amusing presentations about creating and maintaining an undertaking, and we also partook in workshops about communications and preparing an elevator pitch. These things were essential when we had to look for economical support and carry out our crowdfunding campaign.
On the other hand, Patricia Echeverria has a start-up in Atacama region, where she produces food coming from algae. She told us about the options that has this emerging market and all the competitive funds that are possible to go for as a project. Moreover, she encouraged us to keep on going and maybe even try out our results in her reactors in the middle of the desert!
Download the food brochure!.
Working with Chalmydomonas reinhardtii is and has been a great challenge for us, mainly because the facility where we are working hasn’t cultivated them before, so we were actually quite blind in our path at first. But lucky us, we found Tomas Egaña’s lab, who works in the HULK Project , that consists in tissue regeneration using the same microalgae that we work with.
Additionaly, the academic world that surrounds us helped us contact LMU München who specialize in working with this little Chlamy and guided us to work with. They also revised the protocols that were used (view the document).
Finally, Dr. Alison Smith of Cambridge University kindly offered us the promoter sequence to use, given that it wasn’t possible to be found in literature references. This saved us an enormous amount of time.
As the press points out , Puchuncaví is full of thermal power plants, which have a high environmental impact in the zone. Due to this, our first action was to contact the environmental affairs of the town council. They told us that the resources they had to their disposition were little and there are a few environmental NGOs working in the zone, but the people were very willing to help revert the situation and improve their life conditions.
But not all the scene was devastating in Puchuncaví. Clean Energy, leaded by Andrea Irarrazabal, works day and night capturing the emissions of Ventana I power plant. As Andrea indicates, it has been possible to reduce up to 80% some of the emissions, and algae generate an important biomass volume.
Initially inspired by our collaborations , we went to talk with personnel of SAG and Energy Ministry. Once discovered the information that they manage, we decided to investigate more with the sources that were given to us. That is how we obtained the total emissions of Chile from thermoelectric generation (0.83 ton/MWh od CO2, 0.000054 ton/MWh of PM, 0.0013 of NOx and 0.00099 ton/MWh of SO2), learned about carbon credit regulations, decontamination plans, regulation of GMOs, forms of operating GMOs in a safe way, and we could think about the regulations that were missing in our country so that we could progress in a harmonious and safe way.
A ray of hope for Los Maitenes
Puchuncaví and, in general, the other areas that are in the commune, are one of the many emblematic cases of our country referred to environmental conflict, becoming one of the denominated “Sacrifice Zones”. Were neighbors are exposed to industrial activities that most of the time promise to be environmentally friendly projects, benefiting the neighborhood and improving life quality, but finally they only favor multinational companies and impoverishes health and the wellness of local population.
After we’ve got and studied this background we contacted the neighbor’s board of Los Maitenes, a village that is not well known and which most of the time is not included in studies, statistics and others. The villagers mentioned their problems due to the abandon of the municipality and the thermoelectric facilities, highlighting:
After identifying the problems that they suffer they are told about iGEM Competition and what we, as Team UChile OpenBio-CeBiB are doing. Immediately they were interested on a possibility to improve air quality and fight climate change. Also, they mention they would love to recover they missed agrarian land. They described Los Maitenes as “a rich community in peas, beans and corn plantations, animals roamed freely in our lands and we had what to eat, because nowadays we do not even have that, neither animals” (Focus Group, Neighbor’s Board Los Maitenes, 2017).
Collecting the ideas and stories of the villagers, we proposed them the design and implementation of a biorreactor shaped as an iconic symbol of the town. So, following their memories we decided to design a wheat spike-like biorreactor that will clean the air from the town square and will be continuously producing molecules that will work as bio-fertilizer. Also, we invited the members of the Board and their families to visit our University and our labs.
Design of a wheat spike-like reactor.
The first idea for the team was to build a catalytic bioconverter for vehicles, that could absorb their emissions with an optimized-carbon capture microalga.
After consulting with teachers and public in general, we opted to intervene a metabolic route for synthetizing a determined biomaterial with all this new carbon captured.
Along the expositions we’ve done, we got the suggestion to do a bioreactor capable to absorb industrial emissions.
Finally, our visit to Los Maitenes village induced us to focus in a bioreactor familiar for the community and produce biomaterials that the community will appreciate (in this case it could be fertilizer, or other molecule to help the plants to grow).