Summer CampsFor members of our 2018 team, one of the main goals for this year consisted of not only building up research to degrade crude oil with genetically modified bacterium, but also to jump start the STEM education of young minds in the community. This has led to the continuation of iGEM’s Annual Bioengineering Summer Camps, with two comprehensive levels offered: Biology I and Biology 2. During the week of June 18 to June 22, iGEM hosted its camps in the QUEST laboratories of Canyon Crest Academy, allowing students to gain hands on experience for valuable laboratory techniques. These two camps were available for students in grades 5 through 8 in the fall, and served as an immersive jumpstart in biology topics rarely even taught in the formal high school classroom. We hoped to inspire future scientists and to instill a passion for research science; the skills learned by the students in this camp will be valuable in any career, STEM and beyond. In the Biology 1 course, students had the opportunity to explore a detailed overview of genetics, while delving into topics such as Mendelian genetics, punnett squares, pedigrees, genetic linkage, DNA translation and transcription, as well as types of inheritance. In addition, students were educated in Earth Science and able to practice laboratory techniques and labs such as pipetting, transformation, centrifuge use, and compound microscope use. As for Biology 2, students were able to engage in lessons revolving around Microbiology, including topics such as microbial interactions and systems, staining, microbial uses in industry and agriculture, as well as gene editing and CRISPR techniques. They also learned about biochemistry and environmental science, all while gaining valuable experience with laboratory techniques of gel electrophoresis, PCR, transfection/transformation, antibody staining, and cell culture practice. We pitched this camp to the San Dieguito Union High School District on June 7, warranting support from the CCA Foundation as well as dozens of student sign ups. This camp required weeks of careful planning, including the creation of our own curriculum and lab procedures as well as scouting out supplies we needed to buy in advance to ensure that the camp would run smoothly. Overall, this was an enriching experience, as we got to interact with local young scientific minds as well as earn a profit to help support our project. Through the course of this week-long camp, we were able to make a revenue of $10,760 with costs of $1044.63 with a final profit of 9,715.37. This money has allowed us to purchase the lab materials necessary for the smooth running of our project.
PAH DegradationOur project has been designed to create a product that can be used to take the carcinogenic components out of crude oil and convert them to other energy sources. With the ExxonMobil oil spill in 1989, thousands of animals and birds were killed from crude oil along with the closing of crab, herring, salmon, shrimp, sablefish, and rockfish fisheries through 1990. Tourism in the area also took a hard hit as well with a loss of 26,000 jobs and around $2.4 billion in revenue. The total payment that Exxon was made to pay through the Supreme Court was a whopping value of $507.5 million. Compared to the current costs of oil spill cleanup of around $27,296.25/ton to clean up, along with heavy environmental repercussions, the current system is clearly lacking. The popular use of dispersants can be even more harmful to marine life than the crude oil that is meant to clean up. Our total costs of 5,511 are much lower than the costs of using the current methods of oil spill clean up and can utilize different pathways to create new energy sources from the toxic components, making sure nothing goes to waste. The utilization of a bioreactor enables the usage of this bacterial degradation on a larger scale. The ratio of our total costs to the total benefits is a value of 1:3.95, a feat for the economical parts of this project. Our potential customers would be oil companies and private oil spill contractors, as they are the ones exhausting their funds to clean up after these spills. With our solution, the costs they would have to pay would be substantially less, simulated by our total costs: total benefits ratio. The cost of the environment would also greatly lower, with the decreased use of toxic dispersants.
Costs and Benefits
Legislative ActionWe have spoken to local representatives in Congress to discuss possible legislation involved with the implementation of our project in real life situations, and how the sale and distribution of such products will affect both the environment and the economy. We discussed introducing our bioreactor system into a city’s infrastructure with a representative for Senator Kamala Harris as well as a staff member under Representative Darrell Issa, both of whom gave useful insight about the implementation of our applied design. Oil spills are often inevitable, and through our discussion with Kamala’s representative, we realized the influence of legislation on the effectiveness of environmentally based synthetic biology solutions. She told us that if we could prove the competence of our project against conventional oil clean up methods, legislation would greatly boost our business potential. Much like the legislative support of wind power which quickly propelled this technology into popular use, the same support could warrant us future success.
We’ve also raised money and help through sponsorship and mentorship opportunities from investors and companies around the nation. We have pitched our ideas to sponsors and gained monetary support through companies such as Genscript, IDT, as well as our CCA Foundation, and also received the valuable mentorship of biotech professionals from around San Diego. We also receive donations to our foundation account, in thousands of dollars. Through this project, we were also able to meet our mentor Isaac Mehl, who has greatly helped us with free lab space rentals, machinery usage, and valuable mentorship. Speaking with angel investors about the project, we received interest in our project and were asked to market to a few beta investors to receive further funding on our project.