Integrated Human Practice
POST-DOC. FANGFANG ZHENG
Postdoctoral fellow & Doctor of Science
Dr. Fangfang Zheng has long served as the manager of the top synthetic biology laboratory in China. To further explore the past and present of enzymes that are used to degrade algal toxins, we interviewed Dr. Zheng from the Institute of Plant Physiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences online. He once led a team to remove blue algae by biological means. His team tried to eradicate the problem of blue algae invasion through lysozyme, a bacteriophage effective for blue algae, and mlrA, B, C, D, which can completely degrade algae toxins. They assumed that lysozyme and mlrA could be fused. Therefore, the obtained product could degrade cyanobacteria and microcystins during lake treatment. However, the fusion failed, probably due to their insufficient understanding of membrane proteins. The researcher told us that they did not have a large number of membrane proteins that could be studied in the laboratory at that time because the number of membrane proteins purified was relatively small and the purification process was complicated. This also led to the stagnation of the final experimental process.
Dr. Zheng holds an affirmative position in our research. According to relevant papers, purified mlrA enzyme can indeed effectively reduce the toxicity of microcystins. However, the extent of the influence of enzymes on water bodies will vary due to the environment in different water areas. He also put forward suggestions for the production of our device. Due to the strong reaction of enzymes to temperature, we need to pay special attention to the temperature control of enzymes in the device at different times. He hopes that we can conduct research and exploration on mlrB, C, D templates under the condition of sufficient time. Due to the difficulty of MIrA extraction, the team only carried out experiments and extraction on MlrA templates, but MlrB, C, D templates also have extremely high research value.
DR. SHOUBING WANG
Professor of Fudan University Dr. Shoubing Wang is the director of Environmental Ecology and Nature Protection Committee of Shanghai Environmental Society. His main research focuses on the ecological management of eutrophic lakes, environmental protection planning, etc.
He gave us a detailed introduction to the causes of cyanobacteria in China, the current situation of China's water bodies and treatment methods. We have learned that China's water body was relatively barren at first, with less nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and lower productivity. Later on, due to the need to develop productivity and increase production, excessive chemical fertilizers were applied to the water body, resulting in rapid degradation of lakes, increased eutrophication, and cyanobacteria pollution. Chemical methods can only be used in small water bodies with relatively single substances. Therefore, China mainly adsorbs algal toxins through activated carbon in waterworks. However, activated carbon is easy to saturate and has a high cost, so this method can only be used temporarily. At the same time, the government is also further improving the discharge standards of sewage treatment plants, hoping to make full use of natural purification to purify water areas.
We learned from this interview that, in order to put our enzyme into real life applications, we have to take cost and efficiency into consideration, and there are still plenty of variables that might somehow affect the performance of our enzymes when we test in a lake instead of the lab.
Fengxian District Waterworks 7/22
(In order to learn how official and professional institutions treat cyanobactaria, we decided to hold an interview with managers from the Waterworks at Fengxian, Shanghai, which produces 400,000 tons every single day, consumed by 300,000 populations. We learned from the interview that, the water plant does not pay special attention to the harm of cyanobacteria and does not frequently monitor the amount of algae toxin content in water. The plant is currently using activated carbon to filter all kinds of microcystins in water, which is an effective while expensive means. According to the managers, Waterworks at Fengxian, Shanghai has been experiencing huge loss for many years, but since water is an inelastic demand that is also managed by the government, it’s impossible to raise the price, thus the managers were also somehow concerned about the current situation of the plant. In this case we introduced the project and our method to them and in response, they said that if we could finally invent a device that effectively removes cyanobacteria as well as other bacteria and if we could keep the price of that device lower than activated carbon, we will significantly improve their situation and even the quality of tap water.
Canature is the company that dedicates to water purifier manufacturing and related energy-saving health instruments. The purpose of our interview with this group is to understand the main role of the water purifier and whether there are related devices for treating cyanobacteria and their algal toxins in the water filter. Also, we were expecting that managers or researchers could talk about future development and marketing strategies that we could apply.
We interviewed the technical researcher. However, through the interview, we found that our current method is not suitable for use in water purifiers because there is no substantial amount of microcystins in tap water. But we were still advised by the technical researcher that our method might function better if we placed our device in the water plant, especially somewhere the water flows at a very high speed because this would significantly improve efficiency of water processing. Apart from this, the technical researcher also mentioned that cities with severe water pollution might be a perfect market for us.
Therefore, we need to cut in from another direction to control cyanobacteria and take cost of producing mlrA and placing the device into consideration if we want to involve our device into a real business.