Newcastle iGEM 2016
Scroll down to learn more about our Culture Shock project
Electronic engineering has given us the television and the mobile phone, while genetic engineering has afforded us mass-scale antimalarial drugs, biofuels and a plethora of biosensors.
If one thinks back to the humble beginnings of synthetic biology only 50 years ago, scientists could only speculate at the phenomenon that this field would have on the scientific community. Here at Newcastle University, we have attempted to create a novel field of synthetic biology by fusing biology with electronics. Our project involved looking at electronic circuitry and combining biology and electronics to create alternative parts resulting in an electro-biological system. We used the HtpG heat shock promoter to make a biological, heat-induced light bulb, modifying the pores of E. coli to generate a higher electrical output from a microbial fuel cell, along with a biological capacitor and light-dependent resistors. We believe the concepts for this new field are endless and “electrifying”. Just as the Polish geneticist Waclaw Szybalski said for synthetic biology, we too believe that we will “not run out of exciting and novel ideas” within the field of bioelectronics.
The aim of the Culture Shock project is to allow synthetic biologists to combine bacterial and electronic components to create electro-biological circuits, offering an exciting new fusion of synthetic biology, electronic engineering, and computer science.
As a team, we have achieved a lot as a part of iGEM. For our project we set out to create biological versions of the electronic components that are used in many electronic circuits, such as lightbulbs and batteries. We have designed, characterised, and documented new parts in the parts registry. We have also made lots of new friends through collaboration with a number of teams and our attendance in UK and European meetups. Finally, we prototyped an electronic breadboard kit that will allow a user to combine electronic parts with these new biological versions.
Over the summer we have also submitted corrections to sequences in the registry and built on the work of past iGEM teams like Tokyo-NoKoGen 2011's use of metallothioneins, and 2013 Bielefeld's use of porins in microbial fuel cells. Last but not least, we participated in the 2016 InterLab study, completing both the plate reader and flow cytometry data collection tasks.
You can find much more information, on our achievements and how they relate to the iGEM medal requirements on our medal requirements page.
The foundation advance provided by the Culture Shock project opens up a myriad of potential research routes for the emerging field of Bioelectronics. Applications such as self-healing circuitry and "living" electronic and cell integrated computers no longer seem as implausible and distant as they once did.
With any new technology it is important to consider the surrounding ethical issues, as well as general Public response. We felt obligated to spend a considerable amount of time considering potential ethical issues associated with these ideas. Our "Thought Experiment" was the culmination of this, and considers four of these key concepts, with each having its own level. You can play through the entire thought experiment here, or read up on our entire human practices work here.