Detect and Destroy: Engineering FRED and OSCAR

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2012 University of Calgary iGEM Team, Chris Wintersinger, Emily Hicks, Patrick Wu, Robert Mayall, Iain George, Somshukla Chaudhuri, David Lloyd, Himika Dastidar, Anya Kornilo

University of Calgary, Canada

Tailing ponds are concentrated pools of toxic and corrosive compounds that are produced from oil and mining extraction. The Calgary iGEM team aims to alleviate this potential economic and environmental threat by developing a detection and bioremediation system for the toxins present in tailing ponds. Our system is composed of FRED, the Functional, Robust, Electrochemical Detector, and OSCAR, the Optimized System for Carboxylic Acid Remediation. FRED is capable of detecting multiple compounds present within a sample using an electrochemical output. We created open-source hardware and software to work with FRED to produce a complete biosensor system. OSCAR is able to break down toxic compounds converting them into potentially useable hydrocarbons. In addition, impurities (sulphur, nitrogen) are removed through known degradative microbial pathways from tailing pond waters. We combined OSCAR with a bioreactor system that was engineered and modeled to provide optimal growth conditions and physical containment from the environment. Further layers of containment considerations were developed through kill-switch mechanisms and auxotrophy to prevent accidental release of both FRED and OSCAR into the environment where they could disturb natural organisms. Overall, this system aims to detect and convert toxins into recoverable hydrocarbons in an economical, safe and self-contained process.