Team:Bilkent-UNAMBG/Human Practices


Water remediation is an important issue in 21st century.  As safe-for-consumption water amount decreases, water purification stands out as an urgent matter to be considered. Our country, Turkey, also deals with a lot of pollution problems, water pollution being one of them. As we search for a project that offers a solution to a local problem, we learned about the increasing antibiotic resistance threat and antibiotic waste in water. In the last few years, Turkey started public campaigns* and public service ads** which aims to raise public awareness about antibiotic use. The reason for these urgent campaigns was the fact that Turkey prescribes a huge amount of antibiotics, consumes a huge amount of antibiotics and throws away a huge amount of antibiotics. All together these prompt contamination of water by antibiotics and pose the danger of increasing the antibiotic resistance among the bacteria present in water. Therefore this may result in bacterial infections spreading simply from water sources. A recent study by the Ministry of Health of Turkey indicates that bacterial resistance against certain families of antibiotics are significantly more compared to UN data.*** This table states how big the problem is in Turkey.







As we learned about the size of the problem in Turkey, we continued our researches in the water purification field. We wanted to know how the antibiotics are separated from water and how efficient the methods are. Bilim Akademisi* is an independent organization (aiming to promote and observe honesty, freedom and merit in science) in Turkey.  We listened to a talk** of Prof. Dr. İdil Arslan Alaton at Bilim Akademisi regarding the issue of wastewater treatment methods. From the talk, we were enlightened that the current treatments applied to wastewater were not 100% efficient and left some pollutants behind which in the end have the pottential to promote superbug development. Superbugs are multi-drug-resistant bacterial strains that are extremely powerful compared to wild type bacteria and can be lethal when they enter host organisms and cause infections. It is almost impossible to cure those infections caused by superbugs due to resistance via regular antibiotic treatments; which poses a very important threat even now and will give rise to bigger problems in future. Antibiotic resistance is considered to be one of the most crucial problems of our era by WHO (World Health Organization). The reason for this concern is the possibility of experiencing a chaotic scenario in which people could die because of minor infections once again just like in the pre antibiotic era. Also, as mentioned in the talk, different types of antibiotics were examined with various methods and some of these chemical treatments still left antibiotic remains in purified waste water.  Moreover, to get the best possible results from the current methods, it is required to spend lots of money, energy and time. Therefore, it was important for us to handle this issue with a different perspective that will have the potential to be more advantageous than the current methods. After determining what we aim, we decided to design a project through which we can take a step to overcome this problem.






In order to have a general idea about the awareness level of our society on this matter, we conducted a public survey* where we ask people some questions related to their general knowledge about antibiotic use and their opinions on the concept of water contaminated with antimicrobial drugs. We shared our survey online and got around 250 answers. We have concluded from the results that the presence of antibiotics in wastewater is not known by people. However, although they do not know the exact concept of antibiotic resistance, it is thought that it will cause problems in the future. Also, we have interviewed with people about rational drug use and how conscious they are about antibiotic consumption and disposal. Here is the interview:




After we have consulted the society about the problem, we have focused our interest in experts and authorities in order to obtain expert opinions about the issue. Firstly we have consulted provincial directorate of health of Antalya. Here is our interview with him:



In summary, he has talked to us about governmental campaigns and policies for rational drug use. He has also talked about the situation in Turkey and how unconscious antibiotic consumption can result in insufficient curation of diseases and bacterial resistance development and also how this would affect the economy and society.

Later on, we have talked with a family health center physician who does outpatient clinic in a rural area of the city and she encounters unconscious patients everyday as she explains in this interview:



She talks about how the patients come to her and ask for antibiotics without prescription or they don’t finish their prescribed antibiotics so they come to the clinic over and over again by uncured illnesses. She also talks about inefficient campaigns. Lastly she explains how and from where antibiotics can get mixed in water resources.

After that we have consulted a medical pharmacology professor to learn about the molecular and pharmacological effects of unconscious antibiotic usage on the person. Here is the interview:

He explains to us how unconscious antibiotic usage can affect the person, economy and pharmaceutical companies; and also how it promotes bacteria to develop resistance and its consequences. On the other hand, he talks about how antibiotics can get mixed with water and he proposes ways to fix this issue.

After we have learned about the situation in Turkey about unconscious antibiotic usage and inadequate filtration of wastewater, we wanted to start our project design with the information in the hand and we wanted to focus our project on a specific antibiotic to start with. Therefore, we have done literature search to find out which antibiotic is mostly used, which one creates more harm and which one is hard to eliminate from the wastewater through regular filtration methods; in Turkey. It is found that penicillin is the one with these issues.

Penicillin is one of the most used and one of the oldest β-lactam antibiotic to be used to cure illnesses (makale linki)(Topal, 2013; Yaşar, 2013). Therefore, especially in societies with improper antibiotic usage, it has become very hard to cure infections with penicillin since many bacteria has already developed resistance against it. It is also stated that penicillin is inefficiently filtered from wastewater and low amounts of penicillin in the water prompt bacteria to develop resistance. Therefore, this creates a platform for the development of superbugs (bilim akademisi linki) which in turn holds a real threat to our world.

Thus, our primary focus is to efficiently eliminate penicillin by expressing a penicillin binding protein (PBP) on the bacterial surface; and via interaction between PBP and penicillins’ β-lactam rings, it can bind and degrade the penicillin in the environment via β-lactamase activity.

After that we have interviewed the head doctor of a prestigious hospital in Ankara and what she has told us have changed the scope of the project and lead us in a much different and more complex idea for the project. Here is the interview:



What we have deduced from the interview is that we should not degrade penicillin in the environment which only creates smaller subunits of penicillin resulting in another contamination; but we should capture the penicillin by only binding but not degrading it with the help of a protein expressed on the surface, and removing it from the environment by a method. And lastly, to recycle the collected antibiotics!

Recycling will have many economical and logistical benefits to the government as well as pharmaceutical companies. This innovation will highly benefit the industry in a way that there will be more resources and also antibiotics will be seen less as a contaminant but rather a renewable substance.

We have then searched for a method to eliminate the bound antibiotics from the environment and through investigating other teams projects, ideas and checking the registry over and over again we have came across Berlin 2014 iGEM teams side project where they expressed Bacterioferritin (BFR) M52H heme-deletion part to store iron particles inside the cells and they can eliminate these cells by applying a magnetic field. We have incorporated this idea into our project which resulted in our final project design.

When we have finalized our project design, we wanted to share our idea to other people that can have an impact on the future of the project. So, we have talked with the governor of İzmir* and explained our project to him. He was very interested and proud of us representing our country in an international competition with this innovative idea. Then he has directed us to PINAR corporation’s general manager and we have also presented our project to him and he was also interested and wanted to support us. Later on, we wanted to contact Prof. Dr. İdil Alaton herself whom we were inspired for the project idea. We have interviewed*** her and expanded our knowledge about refinement and disinfection of contaminants from wastewater, the problem of antibiotics and superbug formation. After that, we have contacted with ASKİ (Ankara water and sewerage administration)**** to also explain our project to them and ask for permission to officially use their campaigns and surveys in order to support our project. They have also provided us with their refinement facilities in case we need to take samples to test our system. Another interview we had was with İbrahim Gülen who is a veterinarian. Talking to him was really interesting since he is not from synthetic biology, genetics or engineering fields but is constantly working with antibiotics due to his job. He explained his thoughts about antibiotic use for animals, how animals are affected by antibiotic resistance and what can be done as a further research regarding the purification of harmful chemicals from wastewater. Learning his opinions was a great experience for us since it also gave us an enlightment.



***Interview with Prof. Idil Alaton


After contacting with officials, we wanted to present our project to everyone starting from our university, expanding to masses. Therefore, we have organized several events. 

iGEM Presentation at VIII.Horizons in Molecular Biology and Genetics: “Horizons in Molecular Biology and Genetics” is a seminar organised by the students members of Bilkent Genetics Society. It takes on task which is being a platform for researchers to update people about what they are working on and how their researches are going. It also aims to build a bridge between audience and researchers directly by giving a opportunity of creating a direct contact. Main purpose of this seminar series is the spreading science and enlarging the science for people. Our team has presented the project at VIII. Horizons in order to both introduce the concept of iGEM and create an awareness about the antibiotics usage and resistance and the consequences of being unaware usage of antibiotics. We have also showed our plan and the resolution which we have considered to be useful to prevent the generation of antibiotic resistances from the contamination of antibiotics in the waste water. We are so dedicated to create an awareness on this topic! 

NanoDay 2018: UNAM (National Nanotechnology Research Center) is a national center and continuously growing and reaching out to more scientists and researchers every year. NanoDay 2018 is an event organized by UNAM. This year 4 speakers from worldwide has attended to organisation and presented their valuable researches. Not only students have attended to organisation but also there were academicians to listen in presentations. In the end of the event, we have presented our poster to academicians and talked about antibiotics, their usage and the anticipated outcomes. Main aim was to create an awareness among people and inform about what we are trying to accomplish and what beneficial outcomes might occur.

High School Presentation: We went to Bilkent High School to introduce iGEM, answer the questions of high school students about science and synthetic biology and present our project to them. We have talked with the principle of the school and he has given us the opportunity to present our project to them and explain what is iGEM, what is the hype about the iGEM competition and how hard and amazing it is to be an iGEMer. They were very interested and some of them really wanted to become scientists and engineers after the presentation. We believe that we have created an awareness about the problem of antibiotics and increasing resistance that we are dealing with along with inspiring future iGEMers.

Synthetic Biology Day: Synthetic Biology Day is the day that we have all worked so hard for and the day we all have been waiting for since this would be the organization that is solely organized by iGEM team. This is the third Synthetic Biology Day that Bilkent-UNAMBG iGEM team is organizing at UNAM facility and this year we have brought many speakers* from reputable universities and from different fields of science and technology. We have also designed posters, notebooks and stickers for the event.

The aim of the Synthetic Biology Day is to introduce synthetic biology - what is it, what are the applications of it etc. - to people from various fields starting from engineering to medicine and even from social sciences that are curious about science and innovation. We have also aimed to introduce people to iGEM, thus we have presented our project at the event. We have invited METU-HS iGEM Team to present their project as well and they were very glad to accept this opportunity. The audience were engaged in the conference, the speakers were knowledgeable, the UNAM staff has also congratulated us and we got many positive feedbacks about the organization and pastry! Overall, it was a fruitful conference.