iGEM Peshawar

Project Description

The Water Is Not Safe

Water pollution remains one of the biggest threats to both the environment and human health despite significant advances being made to alleviate this problem.
Everyday, almost 14,000 deaths are reported worldwide as a result of water-pollution.(1)
Heavy-metals are one of the most serious contributors to the pollution of water. Unsafe disposal of industrial and municipal waste and the excessive use of chemicals in agriculture have significantly increased over the past few years leading to an apparent rise in the quantity of heavy-metals in water resources.
Their ubiquitous bioavailability in aquatic environment causes them to enter in food chain, which ultimately leads to the death of organisms that consume them.(2)
Long-term exposure to heavy metals can lead to diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and organ failure. (3)


The toxic effects of heavy-metals make it imperative to detect them in order to protect and preserve environment and health. Arsenic, Cadmium, Nickel, Mercury, Copper, and Zinc are some of the major heavy metals that play a key role as environmental pollutants. Although they are required as trace elements in living systems for several biological processes, their concentration above certain limits is not safe and can disrupt the functioning of several cell components such as enzymes, proteins, and DNA (4).



Several methods are available for detection of heavy metals in water. Majority of these methods, such as as Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (AA), Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES), and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometry are expensive, complex, laborious and ineffective at higher concentrations of heavy metals.(5) These methods cannot be applied at local levels, such as fish farms or ponds, without proper technical supervision.(6)


We aim to engineer a biosensor system in fish with prior testing in DH5α cells by using novel biobrick devices for both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. Our biosensor will enable simultaneous and fast detection of six heavy metals; Arsenic, Cadmium, Nickel, Mercury, Copper, and Zinc. We have selected 6 different chromoproteins to act as our reporters, each corresponding with a metal.


We have developed MAX (Metal Alert Xystem) - an Arduino based bacterial-human interface device equipped with a color sensing array connected to an Arduino Nano microcontroller with a GSM module that enables your bacteria to ‘talk’ to you via text message, effectively reporting what it is sensing even if you are on the other side of the globe! For the first time in iGEM, we equipped bacteria with a digital mode of communication, allowing it to relay real time data and opening up a myriad of possibilities for the future of bacterial human interfacing. Click here to learn more about MAX.


1.Chaudhry, F. N., and M. F. Malik. "Factors Affecting Water Pollution: A Review." J Ecosyst Ecography 7.225 (2017): 2.
2.Brown, Gordon E., Andrea L. Foster, and John D. Ostergren. "Mineral surfaces and bioavailability of heavy metals: a molecular-scale perspective." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 96.7 (1999): 3388-3395.
3.Notarachille, Gabriella, et al. "Heavy metals toxicity: effect of cadmium ions on amyloid beta protein 1–42. Possible implications for Alzheimer’s disease." Biometals 27.2 (2014): 371-388.
4.Landis, W., et al., Introduction to environmental toxicology: Molecular substructures to ecological landscapes. 2010: CRC Press
5.Huang, Hui, et al. "Ultrasensitive and simultaneous detection of heavy metal ions based on three-dimensional graphene-carbon nanotubes hybrid electrode materials." Analytica chimica acta 852 (2014): 45-54.
6.Gumpu, Manju Bhargavi, et al. "A review on detection of heavy metal ions in water–An electrochemical approach." Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical 213 (2015): 515-533.