WashU and Penn State
In the famous comic series, exposure to Earth’s yellow sun causes Superman's cells to produce and store vast amounts of energy, giving him superhuman strength and abilities. All earth-bound organisms are made of cells, and all cells store energy with the same simple molecule: ATP. Our team designed plasmids that would cause bacteria to overproduce ATP and other important metabolic cofactors. Our hope is that these mutant “Super Cells” can be used in a variety of fields, from protein biosynthesis to agriculture.
As a subsidiary of The Nitrogen Project, a multi-university initiative to solve nitrate runoff through genetic engineering, the primary long term goal of our project is to design crops that require less chemical fertilizer. We met with local St. Louis farmers and environmental activists to get their impressions on genetically modified plants and learn about other solutions to the runoff problem. In the end, their input inspired us to search for other, wider applications of our research.
Ultimately, our project culminated in data that strongly suggested that our plasmids increased intracellular concentrations of ATP and reduced electron-transport proteins. We demonstrated that the latter could be useful for the manufacture of interesting biological products. We submitted three working parts – one for ATP, one for electron transport proteins, and one for an inducible promoter.
Throughout the summer, we communicated with other iGEM teams to talk about our project and exchange advice. We even met up with some Midwest teams! We made invaluable connections, learned an incredible amount about synthetic biology, and created lifelong friendships, contributing to a summer research experience that we will never forget.