Cornell iGEM

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Dry Lab

How it Works

The dry lab component of this year’s project was designed with applicability in mind. Designing for feasibility of scale and taking into account the capabilities of the biological components of our filter idea, we settled on a system designed to remove heavy metals from factory waste pipes. This was viewed as one of the most effective potential uses for our water filter system due to the high concentration of pollutants in factory waste and the relatively low volume of water that would need to be filtered.

The system is designed to continuously flow contaminated water through our genetically engineered cells while simultaneously preventing their release into the environment.
Contaminated waste water exiting the industrial pipe is directed into a collection bucket. This stored water is pumped into an environmentally robust casing housing our filtration system. Once water enters the system, the water detection circuit turns on the battery via Arduino. The 12 V battery (which can be recharged using an attached solar panel) powers the 800 mA pump, which propels water through the system. The water flows through a carbon water filter to remove any particulates that may clog the more intricate hollow fiber reactor.

The hollow fiber reactor is a unit that contains hundreds of small, porous tubes – the hollow fibers – inside an outer casing. In our system, cells are placed in the outer casing and contaminated water flows through the fibers. The pores in the fibers are large enough that metal ions and water can pass through, but cells and larger proteins cannot. As water flows through the cartridge, the ions will naturally diffuse through the fibers where they can come in contact with our modified cells, which then will sequester them as explained in our wet lab section. After water passes through the hollow fiber reactor, it should be clear of most metal contaminants and is free to re-enter the main water stream. When implemented, downstream filters would be incorporated into the system to monitor metal concentrations (using the devised reporter system) and to visually indicate when the metallothionein proteins are saturated.