Team:MSU-Michigan/HP/Gold Integrated

Human Practices

East Lansing Water Treatment Facility

We visited the plant in hopes of leaving with a better idea on how to tackle the current issue of contaminated water supply. Bob, the manager of the plant, took us on a full tour displaying everything he could from where the water entered to where the solids and the clean water departed. Bob spoke told us about how water treatment is expensive and that the plant is barely getting by and using 40 year old equipment and machines. Late in the tour he told us some stories from when he visited some small villages in Nigeria where the people would drink water that was clearly contaminated as they had no choice and little knowledge of the contamination. This encouraged us to pursue the idea of creating a cheap water contaminant detector.

Bioreactors as a safe measurement device and educational tool

MSU-iGEM 2017 drew inspiration for our project from the Flint Michigan water crisis. Fresh water contamination continues to impact wildlife and humans throughout the globe with contaminants ranging from oil to heavy metals and pesticides/pharmaceuticals. Contaminants such as lead are regulated by the EPA but pesticides, heavy metals, and pharmaceuticals go unregulated. We wanted to emphasize detecting contaminants that are not regulated in hopes of developing a system that can even be incorporated into water treatment facilities. We visited the East Lansing Water Treatment Plant to gather information on how to apply our project. We continued to develop the impact of our project by participating in an even with the Society of Women Engineers. We wanted to show high schoolers the possibilities of synthetic biology and test to see if bioreactors could be used as a teaching tool. Finally, we sent our bioreactors to the Purdue University iGEM team to test reproducibility of our results. We also wanted to test if our system could be used based on a detailed protocol posted on University of Michigan Software’s website ProtoCat.

View MSU iGEM protocol on ProtoCat

Paper Microbial Fuel Cells

Following our work with the bioreactors, we wished to pursue an even simpler and more inexpensive alternative to our design. Paper microbial fuel cells (MFCs) represent a new design to the traditional fuel cell (1). Their compact size and self sufficiency allow for a more user friendly mechanism for measuring current. We tested these (MFCs) extensively and found that there are two crucial keys to success for these cells. These two things include: optimal connections between adjoining MFCs and standardization of the size within each component of the MFC. We troubleshooted the first problem by hand-building an acrylic compression system to hold the MFCs in place. The MFCs are also readily disposable by flame, which will sterilize any biohazard, and are easy to use. We unfortunately were unable to finish troubleshooting the second main problem but managed to obtain up to 1.8mA of current across six MFCs that maintained good connections. We would want to standardize the MFCs by 3D printing them which would allow for optimal connections and a successful system as displayed in the literature (1).

Updated Biobrick 3A Assembly Protocol



1. Digest for one hour
2. Heat kill at 80C for 20 min.


1. Use 2:1 molar ratio of insert to vector
2. Ligate overnight
3. Heat kill at 80C for 20min.


1. Use high efficiency cells
2. Use a minimum of 5μL of ligation mixture


(1) Lee, S. H.; Ban, J. Y.; Oh, C.-H.; Park, H.-K.; Choi, S. Sci. Rep. 2016, 6 (1), 28588.

 Logo  Logo  Logo  Logo  Logo  Logo  Logo width=  Logo  Logo width=  Logo width=

Contact us: