Tailings ponds, lakes that hold the toxic by-products of oil sands mining, cover an area of 176 square kilometers in Alberta and contain enough liquid to fill 390,000 Olympic-sized pools. Tailings ponds are extremely detrimental to the environment and pose challenges for improving extraction processes used by oil and mining industries. If left untreated, tailings ponds have the potential to pollute water sources, damage ecosystems, eliminate biodiversity and kill a variety of living organisms. An example of tailings ponds pollution includes harmful ions such as lead and mercury which affect the environment.The removal of heavy metals in tailings ponds as well as wastewater is appealing yet challenging. In addition to benefiting the environment, the extraction of these metals creates value out of what would otherwise be waste.
To address these issues, we propose a system using engineered bacteria and bacteriophage-- viruses that infect and reproduce within the host bacteria-- to capture and remove ions from solution using novel capsid composition and inducible precipitation. Utilizing biological systems and local infrastructure will both purify contaminated water and extract reusable metals renewably. To better understand the feasibility of our project, we plan on using a mixture of kinetic, agent-based and spatial modelling. Kinetic modelling will allow us to mathematically understand the trend of our system as well as how our system will react to specific parameters. Agent-based modelling will display the different components of our system. This allows for a more accurate visualization of the system as a whole with the different agent interactions. Finally, spatial modelling will help us demonstrate our unique system to the general public. Additionally, we plan to contact the head of the Water Treatment Plant in Lethbridge to see how our project could be integrated into their facility, as well as to understand how our project would function in their system. Our system of engineered bacteria and bacteriophage will provide a solution to the issue of metal contaminants present in water.