Beyond the lab
The main goal of our project is to employ affordable sensors that can detect level of gold in soil samples. Our target group was artisanal miners living in developing countries. To address the needs of our group, we investigated use of synthetic gold sensor circuits in order to provide an alternative prospecting tool and understand Malaria epidemiology. We researched soil levels and conditions to understand how current prospecting techniques are performed and means to employ our technology. We found that specificity of our device plays an important role as soil samples can contain variety of metal ions. In addition, since the gold concentration in soil samples can be low in the range of uM, we tested our circuits in concentrations less than 10uM. We performed a comparative functional assay to select the best circuit among BioBricks constructed and available in the registry. We selected BBa_K2048002 as it was highly specific to gold and showed minimum to no expression level in the presence of copper metal ions.
Additionally, we performed an analysis for resources available to artisanal miners and minimum amount of resources required to employ our technology. Due to low-setting resources presence in artisanal mining settings, we investigated use of a mobile lab and centralized community testing locations. Our analysis and interview conducted with experts in the field of malaria showed that centralized community testing locations are preferred for validated data analysis. In addition, we worked creating a cell-free testing platform that can be shipped to artisanal miners. Cell-free sensors are optimum for low resource settings as they do not require biological containment, activated with water and incubated with body heat.
In order to employ malaria diagnostics, we conducted series of interviews with experts to understand root cause factors causing Malaria spread. Based on our research and discussions with experts, we optimized our tool to be cell-free paper based design, minimized the risk factors such as highly acidic and expensive reagents, and increased the sensitivity for gold at low concentration with visible output to enable functioning in low resource settings.
A white paper is an in-depth working document that outlines a problem and offers a solution. Our team chose to write a white paper to showcase our direction of research from our preliminary research to our final edited project. The paper reflects our progress and the direction of where our project was going. The white paper is an iterative process which allowed us to brainstorm ideas and frequently edit them into tangible work that our current project includes. The paper has helped us organize our ideas into categories where team members were able to tackle on the research efficiency with hard deadlines.
Our working paper is divided into 5 headings: Biosensor Design, Business, Ethics, Geology, and Malaria, all which surround the subject of gold and mining. Not only has our essay helped P&P members organize our researched information but the paper has also enabled other group members to track our work and keep up to date with any changes we encountered in our project planning. The summary of our work hopes to engage readers in our journey towards our completed project and showcase our growth as activate learners and researchers.
The paper can be found here.
Another part of human practices is having outreach educational programs, which P&P have dedicated members for.
Members initiated a working draft of an undergraduate synthetic biology course syllabus as part of a long-term iGEM policy project where this course will eventually be introduced into universities, specifically U of T. This project is not yet complete, but our draft syllabus is available to view for the public. We welcome any constructive criticism and additions!