A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!
Welcome to the UCL 2012 iGEM project. This is a wiki-in-progress, keep checking back for updated content and project news.
Plastic Republic - Constructing An Island From Microplastic Waste
Turning a Global Problem into a Valuable Resource: We Aim to
Engineer Bacteria to Aggregate Tonnes of Microplastic Pollution into
‘Plastic Islands’, in order to Reclaim Plastic for Re-Use.
There are numerous regions of the ocean with an accumulation of
microplastic pollution. Plastic is estimated to account for 60-80% of
marine debris, where the majority accumulate in gyres, centres of
subtropical and anti-cyclonic currents. Microplastics are a result of
release of plastic waste into the oceans. The waste in the gyres enter
the digestive systems of resident organism, which are affected either by
the physical size of the plastic or its toxicity from adsorbing organic
Our team came up with three modules that aim to solve the
micro-plastic pollution in the marine environment. We are engineering
bacteria to be able to detect and aggregate micro-plastics into larger
pieces to facilitate removal. For the micro-plastics that cannot be aggregated we have an alternative approach which is to degrade the micro-plastics. We are pursuing these as three separate modules which we will assemble once we have tested their competence.
Receptors based detection is a first step for both aggregation and
degradation. The main receptor is human oestrogen receptor that binds to
different types of micro-plastics.
In the case of aggregation, receptors on bacteria detect
micro-plastics and induce the production of sticky extensions of cell
membrane. First this allows bacteria stick to the plastics and once
covered in bacteria allows micro-plastics to stick to one another.
The degradation module, which is separate from aggregation module,
also comes after receptor detection. This system metabolizes the
micro-plastics and their derivatives that are otherwise toxic to the
environment. As a result of degradation these materials are converted
into non-toxic ones.