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UCL iGEM 2016 | BioSynthAge


Lubricant is a substance used to reduce the friction. It can be used as a personal
lubricant for sexual activities as well as for the insertion of catheters in hospitals.

The problem


Catheter lubricant is very commonly used when inserting urinary catheters in hospitals. As a large segment of the population receiving these urinary catheters are elderly (65+) and a lot of these catheters can result in UTIs, we have decided to develop a lubricant that detects and report (via a colour change) different pathogens associated with such infections. This lubricant would then be used to aid the insertion of catheters as well as further monitoring of the sterility.

Catheters in Practice

In hospitals nowadays it is very common to have a urinary catheter inserted to drain the bladder. Catheters can either be intermittent, where they are only inserted temporarily and removed as soon as the bladder is empty, or indwelling, where they are in place for a prolonged period of time (days or weeks. ) The NHSN (National Healthcare Safety Network) had found that in the EU around 17.5% of hospital patients need indwelling catheters: 45-79% of which were in a critical care unit, 17% in the medical ward, 23% in the surgical ward and 9% in rehabilitation (1).

Around about 73% of the patients receiving these catheters are above the age of 65. Now the problem arises as about 28% of these elderly patients will develop a UTI (urinary tract infection), due to the use of a urinary catheter (2). 60-80% of patients with indwelling catheters receive antimicrobials to counteract asymptomatic bacteria, which can lead to microbial resistance. In practice catheter lubricant is used to try to reduce the risk of infection, pain, friction and general discomfort (3).

Personal Lubricant

When talking about ageing most of the diseases and implications that come to mind are quite obvious: loss of sight and hearing, loss of mental capacity, arthritis and many more. One that doesn’t come to mind very often are Sexually Transmitted Infections, such as chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea. The fact of the matter is though that between 2007 and 2011 the number of chlamydia and syphilis increased by 31% and respectively 52% in the American population over the age of 65. (4)

This may initially come as a surprise but it is a reality nowadays, especially in elderly care facilities. With people living for longer, medication countering the effects of erectile dysfunction and a lot of free time it can be crudely compared to an American frat house. This might not yet be seen as a problem as people of all ages should be able to enjoy themselves however they want to. Yet the real problems start when there are secondary effects from the STIs, such as arthritis, vision loss and other symptoms. Those will usually be classified as just age-related problems and treated as such, rather than being treated appropriately.

IrrE Concept

IrrE is a part (5) from a former UCL iGEM team, where, when E. coli was transformed, protected against salt, oxidative and thermal shock. In our case we would see if E. coli transformed with IrrE is better adapted to living in lubricant than wild type E. coli. If so the IrrE transformed E. coli cells could be used as a chassi to introduce pathogen detecting and reporting systems into. Originally IrrE protects against radiation as it is a protein originating from Deinococcus radiodurans.

Experimental Design

The experiment to be conducted is to see whether IrrE transformed E. coli can more readily survive in lubricant than wild type E. coli. To test this firstly wilt type E. coli will be introduced into different concentrations of Superdrug, head quartered in Croydon, Surrey, (Code: 380900) lubricant and LB and be grown over several hours. Then the same will be done with the transformed cells and we will check whether there is a significant difference between the growth curves of the different cells in different concentrations.

Experimental Results

Diagram to show different growth of wild type E.coli vs. IrrE E.coli in 40% Lubricant 60% LB using Absorbance at 600nm

From the data shown in the graph above it clearly shown that the E.Coli transformed with IrrE grows better in the 40%Lubricant/60%LB solution in direct comparison with the Wild type E.Coli, which hardly grew at all. This data thus suggests that with the IrrE the E.Coli is better adapted to living in, which would allow further studies being conducted on the maximum concentration of Lubricant it can be grown in. Furthermore once that has been determined the pathogen detecting aspect of the concept can be realised. Thus overall this experiment has allowed us to show that IrrE increases the growth of the E. Coli in the Superdrug Lubricant containing: purified water, glycerine, Carbopol 940, Triethanolamine and Sodium Butyl Paraben. This supports the previous experiments that concluded that IrrE allows for better growth in saline conditions[iv], except this time in Superdrug Lubricant.

For further conceptualisation and experimentation it should be taken into consideration that within a commercialisable product the bacteria will not be under ideal growth conditions and the nutrients will be a limiting factor, especially when considering that the lubricant concentration will have to be a lot higher than in this experiment.


  1. "Urinary Catheterisation - NHS Choices." NHS Choices. Department of Health, n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
  2. Nicolle, Lindsay E. "Catheter Associated Urinary Tract Infections." Antimicrob Resist Infect Control Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control 3.1 (2014): 23. Web.
  3. June, 2015 22, and Lakshmi Muthuraman4 March, 2016 10:32 Am. "Selecting Gel Types for Urinary Catheter Insertion." Nursing Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.
  4. Ezekiel, Emanuel. "Sex and the Single Senior." New York Times. N.p., 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Aug. 2016.