Team:Gaston Day School



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iGEM 2011 Gaston Day School

Gaston Day School’s iGEM project for 2011 has two distinct but complementary parts. First, we plan to build a functional nitrate detector using RFP. Red Fluorescent Protein has one distinct advantage over the more traditional Green Fluorescent Protein; it is visible without any special equipment. Our goal is to have a detector that is easy for anyone to use in the field. Most people, including farmers and ranchers, who would need to detect nitrogen pollution will not have a pocket UV light! We envision a kit that could be used to determine if the runoff of a particular farm was high in nitrogen. The kit will include all necessary components for running the test and then decontaminating the resulting growth to prevent release of the engineered bacteria into the environment.

The second part of our project involves a close look at the actual risks of accidental release of the engineered bacteria into the environment. Many groups, including ours, have proposed and built environmental detectors of various sorts. Often, these detectors come with sophisticated mechanisms for preventing the release or for preventing the bacteria from growing if released. We would like to include a very simple mechanism for killing or denaturing the bacteria in our detector kit – bleach. Bleach is highly effective at killing bacteria and is readily available to the average person. Even if we include the bleach in the kit, we realize that many people do not (or will not) read and follow directions. We plan to simulate a variety of conditions under which our detector could be introduced into the environment, ranging from simply dumping it in the sink to pouring it into the local creek or soil. By producing survivorship curves, we can estimate the real risk of spreading the recombinant bacteria into the environment.

In the March 4th, 2008 edition of The Fayetteville Observer, journalist Greg Barnes writes about the struggles of families in North Carolina with nitrate-contaminated drinking water. "In 2005, state environmental officials found excessive levels of nitrates in the Voelkers' well and three others... near Stedman[, NC]. The Aquifer Protection Section notified the Voeklers of the contamination by letter in 2006... But [a] recommendation was never made... They stopped only after a reporter told them about the contamination in November... the Aquifer Protection Section recently found contamination in about 40 wells."

It is because of these discrepancies in time, during which serious health risks can occur, that we are doing this project. The Voeklers have 3 young children, who could have become seriously ill - and possibly died. Similar cases exist all over the world, and our goal is to create a cost-efficient nitrate detector that will take a matter of moments to inform the user of the level of contamination, rather than months as it took the Voeklers to be notified. In this manner first- and third-world countries alike will be able to keep their citizens healthy and protected from methehemoglobinemia.

This 2007 National Census of Agriculture for the United States of America highlights the water sheds of this country and how the land around them are being used. It includes such information as the number of farms in specific regions, the amount fertilizers and chemicals used in these areas, and the number of acres worth of crops grown. Page 24 begins the South Atlantic-Gulf regions, where North Carolina is located.

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