Artisanal mining makes up 15-20% of the world’s global mineral and metal supply. Providing a diagnostic tool to detect gold and the presence of malaria could potentially have a substantial impact on unaccounted profit gain/loss in developing countries. It is important to consider how artisanal miners would be affected by biosensing technology, but equally as important to consider what principles should influence way we design our lab projects. On this basis, our entire University of Toronto iGEM team decided it was critical to meet every week in BioZone for up-to-date sub-team progress and to offer constructive feedback.
After investigating ways in which the paper-based biosensor could influence artisanal mining, the Policy and Practices Team started by using functional decomposition to create a biosensor and malaria diagnostic kit. When it was discovered that the biosensor must be sent to a lab and treated with the toxic compound aqua regia (rather than on-site diagnostics), the Human Policy and Practices Team decided to move to a broader way to impact the health of artisanal miners.
At the same time, our wet lab established a way to make the biosensor reactivity specific to gold, and opted for a cell-free design to promote easier transport, cost-effective production and user-friendly accessibility. To keep our design accessible, we developed a smartphone application that can perform colorimetric analysis, translating the changes of color on our sensor into qualitative data.
During the Synthetic Biology Conversation Cafe, professors and students brainstormed ways in which social infrastructure could greatly influence the use and implementation of our biosensor. Our team proposed an incentive model whereby junior-mining companies would collaborate with artisanal miners where artisanal miners receive malaria treatment plans through community health clinics hosted by junior mining companies. Dr. Peter Pennefather offered invaluable insight and generated an interesting dialogue about human behaviour: as junior mining companies would be interested in the opportunity for more labour while artisanal miners would be interested in the availability of new technology. We concluded the discussion by suggesting the need for policy change regarding formalization of artisanal mining to protect the worker’s rights to health and adequate income.