Team:UESTC-China/Human Practices


  • 1. Overview
    We conducted a survey for both farmers and other citizens to get their views of the current treatment of straw and clean energy. We found that the phenomenon of burning straw still exists and utilization rate of it is particularly low. Besides, citizen's attitude toward clean energy is friendly but they are still not willing to use it. After understanding the basic situation of straw treatment and clean energy, we have communicated with professionals from Biogas Institute of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs to understand the current research progress in this field so as to improve our design. We got more information about obstacle in current research of reusing straw, as well as analysis of advantages and improvement in our project. After those above, we consulted biologist in our project to further optimize the pathway and experiment design in a more professional perspective.
  • 2. Supporting Research
    Survey for farmers
    We released a series of questionnaires for farmers to get more information on production and treatment of straw. The total number of questionnaires collected by farmers reached 231, of which 214 were valid questionnaires; we collected the questionnaire in the way of face to face interview as well as internet etc.
    We carried on a series of analysis to get more information from our questionnaires. It was found that the amount of corn straw is produced at most, so it is reasonable that we choose corn straw as our researching direction. Moreover, it is obvious that the situation of treating the straw is still not very optimistic although the amount of incineration shows a decreasing tendency. From all above we come to the conclusion that the utilization of straw is really a problem that draws attention and we hope that we can alleviate this dilemma through our work this year.
    Survey for citizens
    We also conducted a questionnaire for citizens to investigate their attitude toward clean energy. The number of citizens reached 531, of which 516 were valid questionnaires.
    According to the above survey, it can be seen that people have fully realized that burning straw will pollute the environment, and most people believe that converting straw into clean energy is the best way to deal with it. We find that citizens have a strong preference for clean energy, but their use intention is not high. Improving the convenience of the use of clean energy can increase the tendency of citizens to use clean energy. When asked if people would accept genetically engineered bacteria, more than half said they would, and most said it would improve the situation. These results led us to determine the use of bacteria to degrade straw and produce clean energy.
  • 3. Connection with relevant institute
    In order to investigate and understand more current status of agricultural waste treatment and clean energy, we visited the Biogas Institute of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and communicated with related experts.
    They explained the situation of agricultural waste treatment and their current research progress to us. From our conversations with them, we learned more about current state in dealing with straw, as well as the development and problems in producing bioenergy. Based on our interview, we conducted a more comprehensive evaluation of our project and made improvements on it.
    With Dr. Liangwei Deng
    We interviewed Dr. Liangwei Deng, a professor of biogas engineering. He explained the current status of agricultural residues in great detail to us, and told us that straw is the largest untapped carbon source at present. In the field of agricultural waste bioenergization, producing biogas is the most mature technology, but there are still some problems, such as the short life of biogas digesters, safety problem, high cost of centralized transportation of agricultural waste, and difficulty in handling waste liquids. At present, the most common use of biogas is to generate electricity, followed by fuel cells. We consulted him about the situation of agricultural waste treatment and introduced our project of this year.
    - How do you think of the current status of agricultural waste treatment?
    - The situation of existing processing methods are not so good. burning straw is still popular in many areas in China, causing very serious air pollutions. To the field will breed pests and diseases, leading to carbon to nitrogen ratio imbalance in the land. Other methods such as silage, as a raw material for mushroom cultivation, etc., could not solve the problem of excessive agricultural waste. So I think it is excellent to treat it using biological ways.
    - How do you think of our project?
    - Although the current biogas digesters have been relatively mature and promoted, its limitations are also obvious. Biogas has a limited range of applications and cannot meet many application requirements. So I am willing to see the generation of other types of clean energy, just like hydrogen and butanol in your project.
    With Dr. Mingxiong He
    We talked with Dr. Mingxiong He. He is mainly engaged in research work on biomass energy and microbial metabolism engineering. His current research is to produce ethanol from crop residues such as straw, and to explain the current status of ethanol production. At present, the process of fermenting straw with microorganisms is mainly divided into two steps: the first step is mainly for straw pretreatment, which mainly uses acid to destroy the chemical bonds in the straw; the treated straw is hydrolyzed and fermented with a strain to produce clean energy such as ethanol; the second step is to biodegrade the treated straw by biological methods. We think that our project is relevant much to the research of Mr. He, so we introduced our project to Dr. He and raised some questions. He also told us his views and suggestions.
    - What do you think is the advantage in our project?
    - The way of pretreating the straw. As I said before, the current degradation of straw requires pretreatment, and the existing methods are almost physical treatment, which is very polluting to the environment. At the same time, we also hope to have a complete process from straw to clean energy without pretreatment with physical methods. You can biologically pretreat the straw with bifunctional enzyme, which I think is a very innovative idea.
    - What do you think is the difficulty in producing bioenergy?
    - The biggest obstacle at present is still in the yield of clean energy, which is the contradiction between the yield of the strain and its tolerance, because both ethanol and butanol are toxic to bacteria. If the strain tolerance can be improved, the final yield will achieve a breakthrough.
    Integration: So we decided to look for ways of improving the tolerance of the strain, and finally we decided to use the gene of GroES & GroEL, which can help cells correctly fold the protein as well as reduce the damage of the butanol to the cells and improve the tolerance of the cells to butanol.
  • 4. Connection with biologists
    Interview Dr. Junbiao Dai
    We held a forum of biology and invited Dr. Junbiao Dai to give us a lecture on synthetic biology. We introduced our project to him and consulted him about our design and experiment to improve our project.
    - If more foreign plasmids are transformed into cells, will it produce some negative effect?
    - Probably yes. It is recommended not to transform too much plasmid in a coli.
    - What are the biosafety issues that we need to pay attention to when designing and operating experiments?
    - Generally, a sequence is inserted into the plasmid to prevent the bacterium from breeding in the wild.
    - Introduce a foreign gene with the same function without knocking out the original gene. Will it be competitive or synergistic? If the same reaction is catalyzed, there will be synergy and generally no competition will occur.
    Integration: So we finally decided not to conduct our plasmid into one coli. Under Dr. Dai's reminding of biosafety, we also remember to insert a suicide gene in our follow-up experiment.
    Interview Dame Anna Felicja Dominiczak
    DBE, Anna visited the University of Electronic Science and technology. At the forum, members of UESTC-China discuss our project with her and receive her high praise.
    - We know that precision medicine is the direction your team is working on, and the field of biomedicine is now more and more integrated with biology. How do you think the future of biomedicine?
    - I think this is a great combination, and this is the direction we have been working hard. We have been merging medicine with disciplines in all fields, and the injection of biology will undoubtedly make it perfect.
    - Our current project is also a fusion of synthetic biology and energy. What do you think of our project?
    -Very good job! I think your ideas are very creative and I believe that such a combination can bring about some changes.
    Interview Edvard Ingjald Moser
    We are very fortunate to welcome the Nobel Prize winner to give us a lecture on his research these years. We have a short conversation with him on his research and our work, receiving positive comments from him.
    - Life sciences is very mysterious and full of many unknown secrets. You have been studying this field for many years, hoping to give more answer of life and bring benefits to humanity. We are now making effort in creating the “Straw-Degrading Energy E.coli”, trying to reach the goal of solving the problems in utilizing the straw. Do you think that our project will bring some changes to the world?
    - I would like to appreciate your creativity. I believe that your project will not only bring about changes in bioenergy, but also influence other areas.
  • 5. References
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