Our project will expand current knowledge on addressing perchlorate contamination, not just on Mars, but on Earth as well. Technologies do exist for the removal and reduction of perchlorate, but the majority are costly and take a long time. By constructing a system that reduces perchlorate biologically, we can compare its cost and speed to existing processes, expanding the avenues available to deal with perchlorate contamination. Furthermore, as use of the perchlorate reductase gene in bacteria has been explored only by a few research groups, our team’s research will add to the small pool of knowledge regarding this particular gene.
Our main goal is to express the perchlorate reductase gene in E. coli in order to complete the metabolic pathway for perchlorate reduction. From there, we aim to test out the effectiveness of the entire biological system and determine the strengths and weaknesses of this design. We will achieve this through constructing a prototype bioreactor. This bioreactor will contain living organisms – in this case, our genetically modified bacteria – which will carry out the reaction that breaks down the perchlorate ion into its basic elements, oxygen and chlorine. Furthermore, we are exploring ways in which waste from our biological system could be used in other applications. We plan to explore this by constructing a hydroponics farm to test how waste from the bioreactor can aid in the sustainability of other resources. At the end of it all, we aim to present our work at the Giant iGEM Jamboree in Boston, United States where teams from all around the world showcase the work that they have done over the course of the iGEM season. Following the competition, we will do a live webinar for all our backers on the results where we can answer questions and talk about our iGEM experience.
As technological advancements bring the concept of space colonization closer than ever before, exploring technologies that would facilitate colonization beyond our own planet becomes increasingly important. When looking at problems that exist beyond our atmosphere, considerations such as transportation and sustainability are brought into the forefront. These limitations push our team to think creatively for our project in order to address these problems. In turn, it will breed innovative solutions that could be used in the future. In addition, research into solving problems that we would encounter in space may also produce solutions for issues that we deal with on Earth. Perchlorate contamination exists on our home planet as well, with the majority of technologies used to break it down being extremely costly. Essentially, our teams research of perchlorate with regards to Mars lends itself to solutions for perchlorate on Earth. We hope that our work can be used to address this toxin on both planets. As a team led by students, we believe that the importance of fostering interest in STEM in younger generations should be highlighted. We hope that our efforts as a student-driven research team will show that passion for the STEM fields can push forward innovation in our world.
In 2009, NASA’s Phoenix lander identified traces of perchlorate in Martian soil, an ion which is toxic to humans and also inhibits plant growth. This will prove to be a major barrier towards the future colonization of Mars. Our team’s project focuses on remediating Martian soil and finding a sustainable method of breaking down this toxin: using synthetic biology, we will engineer bacteria to break down perchlorate ions into oxygen and chloride, thereby detoxifying the Martian soil. In order to complete our desired tasks, we must produce specific enzymes (proteins that can speed up biochemical reactions): perchlorate reductase and chlorite dismutase. In tandem, these enzymes work together to break down perchlorate ions into oxygen and chloride ions, its core components. We have chosen E. coli to produce these enzymes,as it is the easiest carrier and the most researched bacteria available. After synthesizing and integrating the DNA sequence of the two genes for these enzymes into E. coli, this will allow for the breakdown of perchlorate into oxygen and chloride ions and thereby resolve the issue of perchlorate contamination of Mars through the genetically engineered E. coli. As our project’s primary goal is to be utilized on Mars, our research and engineering teams will prototype a self-contained bioreactor, a system that uses living organisms to carry out a biological process/reaction. In our case, we will design and construct a bioreactor that is able to extract perchlorate ions from the soil and expose these perchlorate ions to perchlorate reductase and chlorite dismutase to break it down. Theoretically, our bioreactor would undergo a process in order to create these two enzymes: first, we separate perchlorate ions from the soil. Following this, the perchlorate ions are made into a solution which can be converted to oxygen and chloride ions by our enzymes. Finally, the leftover waste will then be used as fertilizer for agricultural possibilities. While we are researching the feasibility of our project for use on Mars, we will also be looking into perchlorate contamination on Earth.
We require a number of materials to conduct our research. For our lab research, materials such as DNA sequences, chemical reagents, and disposable labware are some items that we need to purchase. As well, we need materials to build our hydroponics setup and our prototype bioreactor.