Team:TU Eindhoven/Synergene/Techno-Moral Vignets/Scenario1 1


iGEM Team TU Eindhoven 2014

iGEM Team TU Eindhoven 2014

Oil-Eating Bacteria Arrays

It didn’t even make the evening news this time. An oil tanker travelling from Hormuz to Virginia had collided with a rift and of course, he and his unit had been called to deal with the damages. They were a special firemen unit, specialized in the cleaning of oil. He understood how the responsibility of cleaning flammable fluids could be a fireman’s job, but it still felt weird to climb onto the red boat. “Firemen don’t belong far at sea”, his younger self would’ve said, “There are no fires in the sea”. He sighed while lifting the crates onto the ship. Nowadays, a moderate oil spill was as impactful as the fires he put out on other days: they didn’t even make the evening news.

That was thanks to the contents of the crates he carried. A faded, yellow biohazard sticker hinted at the many re-uses the crates had seen. Funny how that yellow sticker didn’t frighten him anymore, he remarked. It wasn’t before long that he and his men had loaded all the crates on the boat and they set out to where the oil tanker hit rock bottom.

A unit had been there before them. The oil drifted on the water, a huge and sticky darkness. Around the oil tanker barriers had been placed to keep the oil from spreading. Their job required them to come close to those barriers, so they steered their red ship towards them. Once arrived, he climbed on them and unscrewed the screen inside the barrier. That used screen he would pass to a colleague, while another handed him a fresh screen from one of the crates. He always thought they smelled unpleasant. They also had to wear gloves and protective clothing, in order to remain from touching the array on top of the screen. That array was full of genetically modified bacteria, or “oil munchers” as he and his unit preferred to call them. “They eat oil and poop oxygen. It’s like reverse greenhouse effect!” His friend Bob always said. He doubted Bob was completely correct in that, but it was a neat way of explaining it. The oil munchers ate the oil for about 12 hours and then they died, so the screen was useless after that time.

It was his unit’s job to extract the ‘empty’ screens and put in the new ones. Then they would transport the empty screens to the lab, where those people in white coats would wash the dead munchers off and fill them up with new ones. It wasn’t what his younger self expected to do as a fireman.

De barriers with oil muncher screens did a good job cleaning away most of the oil, but it didn’t get rid of everything. He was reminded of that on the way back to shore. The red boat encountered an smaller oil slick. Nothing to be done once the oil somehow passes the barriers: it was forbidden to release lose oil munchers into the sea. They had to be stuck on those screens, otherwise they’d risk disrupting the environmental balance. Well, that wasn’t completely true. Some claimed bacterial waste and huge amounts of mutated living munchers were the cause of disappearing fish kinds. He himself believed that partly true, but at the same time he believed that whatever trouble the munchers caused, it wasn’t as severe as the consequences of an untreated oil spill.

A screeching bird not far away reminded him of that. It sat on top of the slick, trying to fly away, but the stricky goo on his wings restrained him. Whatever imbalance the oil munchers caused, he was happy that those sights became rarer and rarer. Even though his younger self might’ve thought differently, being part of an oil specialized firemen unit felt like an honor. He liked his job.

iGEM Team TU Eindhoven 2014