Team:University College London/Research/Containment




Project Overview

In many of the worlds oceans, currents carry debris and pollution originating from coastlines. This waste accumulates in regional gyres, where the worlds ocean currents meet, and can reach extremely high concentrations. Plastic is estimated to account for 60-80% of this debris, and is known to be gradually broken down by solar energy and the mechanic action of the sea. This means the majority of the plastic waste are several millimetres in size or less, which has made efforts to clean them from the ocean largely unsuccessful. These tiny plastic fragments - microplastics - enter the digestive systems of resident organism, which are affected either by the physical size of the plastic or its toxicity from adsorbing organic pollutants.

UCL iGEM proposes a synthetic biology approach for the bioremediation of micro-plastic pollutants within the marine environment, with emphasis on regions of excessive debris accumulation, such as the North Pacific ‘garbage patch’.

We intend to engineer enhanced adhesive properties in Escherichia coli and marine bacteria Roseobacter denitrificans & Oceanibulbus indolifex, of the Roseobacter clade. To alter the composition and dynamics of resultant biofilms for the adhesion of micro-plastic pollutants, with an extended vision of creating mass aggregates, or ‘Plastic Islands’.

We will attempt to demonstrate micro-plastic particle aggregation and several additional genetic components, including plastic degradation, salinity/osmotic tolerance in E. coli, bacterial buoyancy and novel active biological containment strategies, for an integrative approach to marine bioremediation.

Biobrick Overview

Plastic specificity

Principle of specificity

Hydrophobicity and properties of plastic surfaces are such that they significantly adsorb synthetic organic compounds compared to ambient seawater. The accumulation of organic pollutants forms the basis of our detection system, whereby expression of adhesive components are induced by the presence of such compounds, these include PCBs, PAHs, DTTs and a wide range of hydrophobic organic compounds.

Aggregation Module

Curli expression for the aggregation of plastic particulates and alteration of biofilm properties BBa_K729003

We intend to aggregate microplastic particulates through expression of highly adhesive curli amyloid appendages, subsequent adhesive and shear properties of biofilms and ability to accumulate nano-plastic/micro-plastic debris will be investigated in the context of marine systems.

Plastic Degradation

Multi-copper oxidase/Laccase for the degradation of polyethylene and other plastics BBa_K729002

Recent evidence has implicated the role of laccase/multi-copper oxidase in the degradation of polyethylene (Santo et al. 2012). We will investigate the potential of a laccase based BioBrick for the degradation of microplastic debris, with focus on polyethylene and polypropylene.

Buoyancy Module

Temperature dependent buoyancy for localisation of engineered bacteria within the water column BBa_K729000

For optimal aggregation and sustained buoyancy, we propose a method for the localisation of engineered bacteria within the water column, dependent on ambient temperature for the synthesis of the gas vesicle polycistronic cluster(Melbourne 2007).

Salt Tolerance

irrE a global regulator from Deinococcus radiodurans for increased salinity tolerance in E. coli BBa_K729001

irrE, a global regulator of radiation resistance confers resistance to various abiotic stresses through regulation of numerous effectors, including DNA recombination protein recA (Earl et al. 2002). We will specifically investigate the ability of irrE to confer salinity tolerance in E. coli, as previously demonstrated by (Pan et al. 2009).

Containment Components

UCL iGEM 2012 addresses fundamental barriers to the implementation of traditional biological containment systems.

A novel threefold active biological containment system BBa_K729010, BBa_K729009

In view of inactivating mutations and consideration for multiple targets for the induction of cell death, we have devised a robust three fold active biological containment system to address horizontal gene transfer. Consisting of toxin anti-toxin pairs Colicin-E3/Colicin Immunity E3 and EcoRI/methyltransferase EcoRI, in addition to the Holin/Anti-Holin endolysin pair described by Berkley 2008.

Nuclease from Staphylococcus aureus for genomic deletion BBa_K7290011