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Purdue iGEM 2016: Clean Water for All

Clean water is a fundamental necessity of human life. Thus, humans have developed methods for transforming dirty or polluted water into clean, safe water that can be used for a variety of purposes; however, traditional wastewater treatment does not recapture valuable components, such as bioavailable phosphorus. Our 2016 iGEM project takes a look at the phosphorus cycle and how synthetic biology can be implemented to improve water treatment. It was designed in three parts: Capture, Store, and Release.

In taking steps to make this dream a reality, the team will be inserting DNA from Microlunatus phosphovorus, a phosphorus-accumulating organism (PAO), into E. coli to increase the phosphorus uptake of these microbial cells. Can we do it? Yes, we can!



Water phosphate concentrations greater than 25 µg/L are known to drive the growth of harmful algal blooms, which compromise water quality and cost global industry more than ten billion USD in damage annually. To improve phosphate management, we transformed genes putatively responsible for inorganic phosphate transport and polyphosphate synthesis from the polyphosphate-accumulating organism (PAO) Microlunatus phosphovorus into E. coli and characterized their functions. Concurrently, we built a bioreactor and designed a suite of cost-effective phosphorus reclamation modules (PRMs) around xerogel-immobilized cells for contained, multipoint phosphate bioremediation. With continued testing, we expect to see an increased dry-mass percentage of phosphorus in our chassis relative to unmodified E. coli, elucidate cell viability and function within our xerogels, and understand the effective lifespan of our constructs. Through applied genetic, chemical, and mechanical engineering principles we expect to provide a means for preventing harmful algal blooms in both developed and developing countries.


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