Dear CSF Committee:
We are Washington iGEM: a team of undergraduates at the University of Washington dedicated to solving problems in medicine and the environment by using synthetic biology. We are writing to determine the Campus Sustainability Fund’s interest in supporting our synthetic biology project centered around wastewater pollution.
Our goal is to engineer E. coli to extract lead and arsenic from wastewater with target proteins, and construct a biofilm-based filter. We expect to present at the iGEM Jamboree in Fall 2021 upon its completion.
Heavy metal toxicity is responsible for many health crises. It interferes with blood, bones, and the nervous system, resulting in anemia, osteoporosis, and cognitive defects. The true extent of damage is difficult to quantify due to the many effects, but lead poisoning alone accounts for half a million deaths a year and 9.3 million disabilities (WHO).
Thus, this is a prevalent problem and affects many stakeholders. Smelters have historically been huge contributors to heavy metal pollution in the environment. However, their cleanup efforts have been extremely expensive. Our solution will be much more cost-effective and efficient in preventing heavy metals from entering the environment, benefitting both the smelters and the people affected. For example, Teck is upstream of many cities that are found along the Columbia River and has the potential to affect large populations of people in Eastern WA.
With the support from CSF, our team can design a sustainable biological solution to treat water pollutants. This may include sources of water used in UW’s daily operations, and can be further expanded into other local/state-wide bodies of water that are harmed by toxic pollution.
Student Leadership and Involvement
Our team is composed of and primarily run by UW undergraduate students who are strongly motivated to induce environmental change. There are 24 undergraduate students divided into teams: Dry-Lab, Wet-Lab, Human-Practices, Web-Development, Fundraising, and Design. The team is assisted by three advisors who are UW graduates. In addition, Dr. Frank DiMaio is a UW professor from the Biochemistry Department who provides our team with his expertise in protein modeling, while Dr. Mari Wrinkler from the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department mentors us in the kinetic modeling.
Education, Outreach, Behavior Change
In addition to requesting support from CSF, our team aims to participate in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, apply for the Husky Seed Fund, and the EarthLab Innovation Grant in near future. Our project is very locally focused so we hope that UW can provide necessary support for our goals. We believe that participating in competitions will give our project exposure and honest feedback which can be used to further its development.
Our team is devoted to educating the UW and local community on pollution. Spreading awareness is one of our goals and helps our team form partnerships with other organizations when our interests align. We want to partner with companies conducting similar research to host events to teach the general public about local pollution and how synthetic biology is the long-term solution.
Due to the pandemic, opportunities for UW students to gain research experience are fairly limited. We provide students who are interested in applications of synthetic biology to harness their passions for scientific research to learn and explore. Our sister group, Synbio for Everyone, focuses on spreading knowledge on synthetic biology to younger children. We made a 200-page curriculum, which has been translated into 20+ languages, and won the Best Education and Public Engagement Award in the international competition last year.
Our team is composed of members from various majors such as engineering, biochemistry, computer science, biology, and business. All of these sectors are essential in executing a successful project, allowing collaboration of students from various backgrounds. Anyone with a passion for synthetic-biology, environmental sustainability, and health is welcomed to our team because we want to create an inclusive environment for UW students who want to make a difference.
Feasibility and Accountability
The CSF has a huge interest in contributing to solutions for environmental issues. This also aligns with UW’s goal of minimizing waste and sustainability. Our project aims to satisfy both CSF’s and UW’s interests by filtering harmful heavy metals in local waters.
Our project focuses on developing a biofilm-based filter that is sustainable to treat the local bodies of water in the UW/Greater Seattle area, and expand to affected areas in Washington state and beyond. With the support from CSF, we hope to be able to conduct a feasibility study as our first course of action to determine effectiveness of the currently used filtration systems. This will provide our team with necessary information on what needs improvements and how we should design our engineered biofilm filters.
The project timeline will proceed in the following phases: conduct feasibility study, perform lab experiments, and develop a usable prototype. A majority of the funding provided from the CSF will go towards experiments and purchasing reagents and hardware for building the models. Our goal is to finish the project by Fall 2021 to participate in the iGEM Jamboree and Environmental Innovation Challenge. Depending on our research during our feasibility study, success in competitions, and feedback, it is also likely that we will continue this project and build it up into a startup.
We estimate the total cost of our project to be $25,000-$30,000. We have already raised $8,000, thus we would need CSF to provide the remaining $17,000-$22,000, which would support our team’s efforts in conducting extensive research locally and experimentally.
We hope to get the chance to provide you with our full proposal detailing our project timeline and full comprehensive budget for further review. Until then, we are happily available to answer any questions that arise in reviewing our application. Thank you for the opportunity and your time.
Bioengineering - Data Science
Business - Finance