The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of polystyrene performed could not have been done without the help of Ivonne Robledo and the University of Edinburgh’s iGEM team. They were kind enough to offer us assistance on developing the life cycle assessment and visualise the real impact that our project would have on the environment, from the first steps of reducing EPS waste to finally biodegrading it into biomass products. While assessing the impacts of currently produced plastics may help with understanding of their environmental effects, polystyrene and other common synthetic polymers have been around and unreplaced for almost a hundred years (Dow Chemical, 2012), another important issue to tackle in the modern world is the creation of new, eco-friendly plastics that leave a weaker trace on the environment.
Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are a polyester category of bioplastics that are ubiquitously found to be produced by various sugar and lipid fermentation processes as a form of energy storage (Jingnan et al, 2009). Their polymers may comprise of up to 200 different monomers that can combine to produce materials that completely differ from each other by properties.
The University of Edinburgh’s overgraduate team project focused exactly on the production of one form of PHAs that they plan to derive from whiskey distillery by-products, called poly-(3-hydroxybutyrate-3-hydroxyvalerate) or PHBV. In their LCA analysis, they have confirmed that production of PHBV biopolymers would have an overall positive environmental impact and believe that further investigation and work on their pathway might improve the world of PHA bioplastics. While collaborating on the LCA, we found that the pathways our projects are using coincide at a specific point, enabling the products TodH breakdown of 4-hydroxy-2-oxopentanoate; acetaldehyde and pyruvate, to be further processed into PHBV polymers through their PHA operon.
Testing on the intercorrelation of styrene degradation and PHA production has previously been done and found that 10% of polystyrene mass fed to the bacteria ends up converted into PHA polymers (Ward et al, 2006), offering exciting insight for bioplastic production from the biodegradation aspect of common plastics apart from just polystyrene.
Plastic lab video
One of the main goals of the Plastic Lab campaign was to offer other iGEM teams to see that along with the whole bioresearch industry, they too are contributing with their wasteful impact on the planet. While making the video, we invited other teams to collaborate on the campaign by filming their ways of reducing laboratory plastic waste. We want to thank all the teams that sent out their video material: University teams Marburg and Washington and High school teams Lahore and Ruia-Mumbai.
On 12th and 13th of July, the Worcester College iGEM team organised the UK meetup along with SynBio UK. The conference was extremely well organised, allowing the participant teams to meet with each other, present their ideas and the work that was done so far, while offering them to discuss about potential collaborations in between, troubleshoot and understand the role of entrepreneurship in such competitions. Many teams attended including the London teams (UCL, King’s, Imperial), Warwick, New Castle, Cambridge, Oxford and Exeter.
We collaborated with iGEM Marburg team. They had a great idea to provide ways to read iGEM wikis for disabled people. We followed some of their guidelines but could not complete all of their requirements in time. They did a good job supporting the disabled people and we hope this approach will be passed on to the future iGEM teams
What we managed to achieve is:
Color contrast: high contrast between background and text
Scalability: text is set as % rather than fixed size
Header: all headers are h1 and h2 what makes them different from other text
Text: used italics and bold text to identify which text is important
London iGEM team troubleshooting sessions
Together with Imperial College, UCL and KCL, we organised a troubleshooting session that took place a month before the Jamboree at the KCL campus. During the session, the teams managed to get in contact with students from UAL to give us a presentation on designing a good wiki page.
It was a good opportunity to also go over each other’s projects and help troubleshoot issues that were occurring with other aspects of our projects.
Laboratory equipment and minor collaborations
After meeting other teams at the UK meetup, we connected with the London teams and offered help whenever we could. Some of the main things we want to mention are the materials that we exchanged with the King’s college team (96 well plates for fluorescence readings for the InterLab study) and UCL, who saved us during the last days before DNA submission by providing us with their BL21 Strain of E. coli for the protein characterisation experiments.
Lu, Jingnan; Tappel, Ryan C.; Nomura, Christopher T. (2009). "Mini-Review: Biosynthesis of Poly(hydroxyalkanoates)". Polymer Reviews. 49 (3): 226–248. INVENTION OF STYROFOAM™". Dow Chemical. Archived from the original on 27 October 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
Ward, P. G., Goff, M., Donner, M., Kaminsky, W., & O'Connor, K. E. (2006). A two step chemo-biotechnological conversion of polystyrene to a biodegradable thermoplastic. Environmental science & technology, 40(7), 2433-2437.