According to the reconstruction of TOR (Target of Rapamycin) pathway, our project is aimed at increase the tolerance of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. E. coli (Top 10), Saccharomyces cerevisiae (BY4742), and vectors based on them are frequently used throughout our experiments. Since we are intended to regulate the major signaling transduction network, expressions of hundreds of genes and a certain number of pathways will be affected, which may give rise to anxieties of safety regarding researcher and environment. Thus a whole set of experiment guidelines and safety rules are followed in every aspect of our project to minimize every possible threaten. Inside the lab, protective clothing, gloves and masks are required while performing experiments with latent danger such as gel cutting under UV, using toxic and volatile reagents such as phenol and chloroform in special areas. All researchers are required to clean up their working area and put back the experimental equipments. Furthermore, protocols for preservation and operation of common E. coli and yeast strains as well as the vectors are strictly adhered to, and make sure no pollutants are left unattended or take away from the lab, to prevent any toxicant or gene form spreading to the public or contaminating the environment.
None of our new BioBrick would raise safety uneasiness. Following BioBrick requirements, we provide standard biological parts in standard BioBrick shipping plasmid, which can be mainly divided into four types: operators, reporters, target protein mutants and modified vectors. They are primarily involved in the phosphorylation of intracellular protein, thus wouldn’t cause any pollution or contaminant.
Yes. Bio-safety group in our chemical engineering institute would operate safety checks of our experiment progress, monitor and evaluate the project periodically, at least once a semester, to make sure our operation won’t bring about safety issues and no pathogen would flow into the public. Besides, all the waste reagents should be specifically collected rather than directly throwing away in trash cans. iGEM laboratory construction of Tianjin University is always keep in paces with policies of state government and WHO, to take responsibility for safety of researchers as well as the public.
The most valid way to attract people to focus on dealing with safety issues is to remind them of the significance of maintaining safe experimental and living environment, and to warn them of the potential hazard if biochemical crisis become out of control. As undergraduates, we should spare no effort to broadcast the opinion that bio-safety is not far from daily life, no matter whom you are and where you live. It truly exists in each drop of water we drink, and each breath of air we take in. It will be too late to stop it from spreading once contaminants flow into the public, yet it is never too late to prevent the crisis in advance.
Energy, serving as the indispensable impetus of social and economic development, concerns the crucial factor of national security. The oil crisis that broke out in the 70s still left a deeply imprinted scar in people’s mind about the impact brought by the energy shortage. Oil prices rose from merely $3.011/barrel to $10.651, which led to the largest recession after World War II. In this crisis, the industrial production in the United States declined 14%, and in Japan, 20%. All the industrialized countries showed an evident slowdown in their economies. However, developed countries did not just sit there, waiting for the destruction; instead, they began to engage in a technological evolution that tend to increase energy efficiency and decrease dependence on oil.
History does repeat itself. In the first decade of the new millennium, oil prices have risen drastically for 391%, reaching the peak of $147/barrel in July 2008. Although the price fell to as low as $32 in December 2008, governments and observers realized that petroleum simply is not cheap anymore. No doubt that the oil prices will continue rising once economy recovers itself. Concentrating on how to save energy alone will not be sufficient to tackle the energy issue. In the meantime, societies can no longer neglect the frequent catastrophic weathers that are attributed to the global warming and pollutions that are brought by the mass consume of oils. People are demanding a more clean, sustainable and environmentally friendly energy that can end our concerns for our development and society.
Facing these two challenges, we have to call for another revolution in the energy industry. Because of its convenience of acquisition, the cheap cost of the material, economic benefits, and contribution to the environment, biofuel began to earn its place on the energy market. First, the raw material of biofuel – biomass - is easy to obtain. Cellulose makes up of most part of biomass that can be fermented to produce biofuel, and cellulose exists in almost all plants. In this way, the biofuel factory will have no problem finding materials that contains cellulose. In addition, cellulose is cheap. It exists mainly in the parts that we usually discard- straws, cobs, etc. This means those biomass costs almost nothing to get. What is more? Utilizing bio-fuels will not emit extra CO2 that are trapped under ground for millions of years. Therefore, biomass seems to be a promising source of energy, and biofuel is suitable for the mass production to replace gasoline in everyday life.
Countries and companies across the globe have begun to put into practice of biofuel production. Former U.S. president George W. Bush clearly stressed the U.S. will emphasize on biofuel in energy research in the State of the Union, and issue one specific goal to accelerate research and make cellulosic ethanol cost competitive by 2012. In Brazil, Sweden and Austria, biofuels are no longer just a pipe dream but rather a practical energy source. Shell and BP, which are forward-looking, have already invested a large fund in the research of biofuel, hoping to remain in advance in this new technology.
There are two ways of producing bioethanol, from direct fermentation and cellulose hydrolysis. Because direct fermentation requires glucose from food plant like corns and canes, which has been criticized as immoral when so many parts of the world suffered from starvation, researchers are striving to produce ethanol from ethanol.
There are roughly four procedures of cellulosic ethanol production: pretreatment, cellulose hydrolysis, ferment, distillation.In pretreatment, many factories use waste sulfuric acid to liberate the cellulose from the lignin seal and its crystalline structure so as to render it accessible for a subsequent hydrolysis step. Although using waste acid lowers the cost, it leads to the emission of furans, acetate and phenols (FAP) in the hydrolysis of cellulose and hemicellulose. People do not want FAP at all. And so does the yeast. Those chemicals hinder the growth of yeast of the subsequent fermentation procedure by causing allergic symptoms in yeast and greatly reduce the ethanol output.This negative reaction has become a major issue concerning ethanol production, so various corporations invest in different approaches to recover the production level. For example, many bio-fuel producers conduct detoxification before fermentation in order to remove the inhibition. Although this method works, it complicates the procedure, leading to additional cost and time. Considering that SB has enabled human to modify a living cell to work in accordance to our design, which expedited the velocity of industrial production by a large scale, compared to the ordinary way of cell mutation and selection, and having thought about the disadvantage of traditional technologies, we felt like trying something different with synthetic biology (SB).
It is the allergic reactions of yeast that hinders ethanol production, thus we hope that there is some way to ease the yeast symptoms and ‘force’ the yeast to maintain the high rate of ethanol production. Originally, yeast growth is suppressed by various inhibitions during fermentation, and it takes too long for yeast to reach exponent phase, and symptoms will only relieve after those inhibition being slowly decomposed. However, our modified TOR made it feasible to maintain a high ethanol output without detoxification process. The GE (genetically engineered) yeast is able to sustain a high growing and producing rate even with the toxicant present. This modification is significant in that it completely rid of the need for detoxification process before or after hydrolysis, which saves a considerably large amount of time and energy and serves the purpose of a better environment of biofuel industry.
In everyday life, the only chance people get to know anything about synthetic biology is about various genetically modified (GM) foods. Unfortunately, theresult of this opportunity for the public to know synthetic biology did not turn out well. There were times when foods that are made of GM corns, wheat, potatoes were proud of their GM ancestry, and favored by consumers. As time goes by, however, worries pertaining the possible danger those GM foods may bring began to fly all over the news and several governments banned GM crops from entering food market. It is natural for some people to feel concerned about the destruction brought by the uncontrolled proliferation of those GM species. People cannot help thinking that the synthetic biology technology must be a monster because everyone says so, and in that way we need to stay away from any GM product as far as we can. As result, people not only stopped buying GM food, but also began to vote against GM technology.
The public is just seeing part of the picture. Admittedly, there are some parts of GM food that we may not completely understand, for those parts may pose unknown risk in food consumers. However, it is unjustifiable to veto the whole technology because of unfamiliarity of SB. Synthetic biology, which has its application in medicine, research, industrial, agriculture, has contributed to relevant fields besides food industry. The mass production of vaccine are made possible by genetically engineered E. coli; the specific function of a particular gene causing a diseaseare revealed by the adding or removing fragments of gene using GM technology; industrial applications involving GE bacteria being investigated involve making the bacteria perform tasks outside their natural cycle, such as cleaning up oil spills, carbon and other toxic waste; etc.. There is a whole universe of Synthetic Biology waiting for the public to discover and understand.
This time, the revolution of biofuel offered us a great opportunity to change the view of the public about GE technology and to promote the understanding and application of the technology at the same time. On the verge of the new energy revolution, public are frequently exposed under the news of the development, and they have many chances and wills to absorb new terms and ideas. Therefore, companies from various fields should join hands together to launch a campaign to promote the impression of GE technology in public’s mind. This is about not only the marketing of one specific company, but also concerning the advance of the technology that have already reshaped our world.
Although we still have to take serious precautions about the potential hazard of GMOs, we should hide no more. In the process of promoting GM biofuel, we should emphasize the GM traits of the yeast; letting public knows that synthetic biotechnology is always by their side. By overtly telling customs that SB is around them and contributing to their living environment, people will come to realize the presence of SB, judge it for themselves. For instance, every gas station that sells GM-yeast-produce biofuel should present a clear label saying ‘Made Possible and Better by Synthetic biotechnology’; capsules and vaccines that are produced by GM organisms can label that ‘thousands of lives are saved by Synthetic biotechnology’. Those progressive campaigns may shock the public in the beginning, but in the end, they may understand and appreciate the magnificence of the technology.
A new era has been unveiled. Together with the public, let us embrace the unprecedented scientific leap with our passion for synthetic engineering for a better future.