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iGEM blog: the fascination of bacteria

03 September 2015

Only a few more weeks and the Blue Bio Energy team will be in Boston to demonstrate its revolutionary energy factory: a membrane covered with a specially modified bacterium that can generate electricity when one side is in salt water and the other in fresh. But there’s a lot to do before then!

We generate electricity when fresh water and salt water meet. Our biofilm separates these two flows and needs to be ion-selective to ensure a gradient develops, which can be converted into energy on the electrode. Our biofilm must therefore be ion-selective and robust.

Why do we use bacteria rather than just a chemical membrane? Because bacteria are actually super-efficient little factories. They will continue to fascinate me. For example, because they work together so well and sacrifice themselves for the continuation of their kind.

Furthermore, our bacteria, Bacillus subtilis, can form a spore. It can exist in this state for years, until it once again forms another colony. Bacteria can also mend any holes in the biofilm themselves, and it is this precisely this characteristic that we want to abuse in our system. We thus want to create a membrane that maintains itself, which makes it very sustainable and cheap.

The K’NEX biofilm printer | Photo iGEM Groningen
The K’NEX biofilm printer | Photo iGEM Groningen

Team member Marieke is being kept busy converting the Bacillus subtilis into the biological machine that we need. The new genes have all been developed, and if all goes well we will have finished the job in two weeks’ time. Marieke has a lot of experience in transformation, or introducing new DNA into a cell, so we have much confidence in her!

K’NEX and playing cards

The iGEM from Delft University of Technology visited last Tuesday and printed bacteria with their K’NEX biofilm printer. We don’t just work with bacteria, though: this week we finally managed to finish our card game that we use to explain synthetic biology through play. A year six secondary school class has now played it, and the response was mixed. They found it quite difficult, which it certainly is, but they definitely enjoyed themselves. Our designer Randy worked until 8:37 on Thursday morning to finish it. By that point he was more zombie than man.

We developed various scenarios for the policy & practices section, and have sent these to political parties, businesses and NGOs. We are going to present the results soon at a conference in The Hague, where Hanneke and I will represent iGEM Groningen. Civil servants from different ministries and representatives from the private sector will attend the conference. It will definitely be a challenging day. We’ll post the photos on the blog next week.

Read the previous post: Team iGEM Groningen 2015: Blue Bio Energy

Text: Wiebrand de Boer

More information on Team Groningen on their iGEM website and their University of Groningen crowdfunding page .

Last modified:16 September 2015 10.07 a.m.
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