We have developed a detection kit for Legionella Pneumophila - a pathogenic bacteria responsible for Legionnaires disease. The legionella family retain a highly conserved but unique protein known as Legiolysin (a hemolysin toxin). We developed a self-folding mRNA known as a riboswitch; the device only unfolds when binding specifically to a segment of the Legiolysin toxin. We then fused our riboswitch with the guide RNA of a type II Streptococcus pyogenes dCAS9 in order to block the targeting domain of the guide sequence with a double stranded RNA loop.
For the organic aspect of our water safety focus, we looked at the growing problem of high oestrogen levels in British waterways negatively impacting fish populations, and attempted to provide a solution using synthetic biology. The synthetic oestrogen, 17β-estradiol (EE2), is the form that has the largest effect on fish populations, and levels in British rivers range from around 0.05 to 2.80 ng L -1 (Jobling et al, 2009). This is the form of oestrogen we decided to target with our project. This may seem like a very small amount, however studies have shown that even extremely low concentrations such as these can have profound effects on freshwater fish.
The third class of pollutants we looked into was inorganic, specifically, lead poisoning and heavy metal detoxification. Lead has been identified by the WHO as one of ten chemicals posing a major global health concern1; the neurological and behavioural effects of lead are widely believed to be irreversible2. It’s health effects are particularly adverse in young children ands been linked to reduced IQ, mental disability and higher rates of violent crime3 and antisocial behaviour in societies with high lead exposure4. To combat this global problem, we’ve been working on a solution to isolate and remove lead from water systems. And the solution we’ve come up with is inducing gas vesicles in bacteria.