Team:Queens Canada/Project/Rationale


Why Bioremediation?

As conventional sources of oil are depleted, there is a demand for petroleum products from other sources. Novel technologies have made once non-economic extraction methods much simpler and cost-effective. A region of explosive growth is in Oil Sands, a resource home to Western Canada.

As the Albertan Oil Sands ( continue to be developed, companies will face significant environmental remediation challenges. In order to ensure the preservation of the environment, novel strategies to find and degrade the toxic by-products of bitumen processing must be implemented.

The QGEM 2011 team was largely motivated by successes such as the use of the bacterium Pseudomonas putida in bioremediation, which proved that microbial biodegradation of environmental pollutants is a viable possibility. However, we wished to push the boundaries further, by creating a multicellular eukaryotic organism which could chemotax towards and breakdown certain types of pollutants. The potential for this kind of organism would be great, as it would have a broader travel range than microbes, would be generally safe to use, and could be applied to field assay tests (such as tests for toxins).

Why an Eukaryotic Organism?

Our team isn't the first to genetically engineer a bioremediation solution. And we certainly won't be the last.

Many iGEM teams have developed projects that:
- Have a biosensor for toxic or polluting chemicals,
- Can degrade hydrocarbons,
- Contain a genetic kill switch to prevent.

For our 2011 project, we wouldn't to design one organism that could accomplish these tasks, as well as move towards a contaminated site.

Such sophistication would require the unique toolbox of an eukaryotic organism.

Why Use a Worm?

Currently there are effective bacterial systems for the degradation of many toxic by-products, but these bacteria cannot move significant distances in the environment to seek out their bio-degradation substrates. The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans’ has many advantages:

Chemotaxis Movement-Robust chemotaxis network represents a system that can be engineered for the detection and long-range movement towards environmental toxins

Multi-Cellular=Multiple Processes- As a eukaryote, many processes can be included at the same time in multiple lcoations.

Hardy Organism- Preliminary tests showed C. elegans able to live in pure bitumen (from Oil Sands) for over a week.