We believe that it is extremely crucial, as scientists, to carefully evaluate the potential consequences of our actions, as well as methods of integration. We conducted extensive research and interviews with leading scientists and regulators to further our knowledge of the science and perception behind using E. Coli to clean up oil spills.
During one of our Outreach Events (see Beach Cleanup under Education and Public Engagement Tab), we had the opportunity to interview 33 people at a local San Diego beach about synthetic biology and oil spills. Aligning with our goals and vision to use bacteria to degrade oil spills, we asked all the interviewees three key questions: 1. Do you think that bacteria are generally good or bad? 2. Would you happen to know of any previous oil spills and/or some specific side effects of these oil spills? 3. [briefly describes our project] What do you think are the potential benefits and harms regarding our approach? Almost all of the interviewees expressed a great interest towards and liking of our idea, and believed it had great potential. However, a few people also raised a few concerns. One of the most common concerns was if the bacteria would have any negative effect on health or marine ecosystem balances, and if there was a way to minimize these effects as much as possible. Another common concern lay in the fact that whether our techniques to degrade PAHs would actually be effective. To properly investigate these issues in our design and/or execution of our project and find solutions, we both designed a bioreactor and modeled our PAH pathways.
Safety Considerations - Designing a Bioreactor
While trying to find solutions to minimize the negative effects of E. Coli in the water, we contacted numerous scientists about the safety concerns of our project, all of whom specialized in oil spills after having extensively researched the Gulf Oil Spill (Deepwater Horizon) via the GoMRI project. These prominent researchers included: 1. Steve Murawski - USF Professor; 2. Dana - lead toxicologist at CIMAGE; 3. Wei Chun Chin - biological engineering @ UC Merced; 4. Cynthia Juyne Beegle-Krause - senior researcher at SINTEF; and 5. Patrick G. Hatcher - professor of chemistry and biochemistry. They advised us to produce with caution with our PAH degradation constructs, as it is a known but often forgotten fact that the byproducts of PAH degradation can contain varying degrees of toxicity as well. After some further research, we were able to address these concerns by building a bioreactor (as hinted at by one of the researchers); this allowed us to test degradation in a controlled, safe system, and even use the bioreactor on a larger scale for water treatment instead of injecting bacteria directly into the water. Overall, we were able to integrate one of the most common concerns people raised about the design of our project into our project, and devise a solution that helped improve our project significantly by providing a safe environment for degradation with little, if any, negative impacts of E. Coli on the surroundings.
Modeling PAHs and Their Effectiveness
To combat the other key concern raised by people regarding our project (regarding the actual effectiveness of our degradation project), we decided to model our constructs using MATLAB's Simbiology Tool. More details of this modeling process can be found on our Modeling page.
In order for our project to be properly implemented, we investigated how to begin commercially applying our project. Our work can be found on our entreprenurial page.