Purdue students working on algae bloom problem

July 12, 2016

Students in synthetic biology at Purdue University are researching a way to prevent algae blooms such as those that have developed along Florida’s coastlines.

Inspired by an annual algae bloom in the Celery Bog near Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, seven students on the university’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team decided to work on a biological solution to take up phosphorus, a nutrient responsible for plant growth and over-abundant algae, from water. To solve this problem, the team plans to engineer a microbe that would take up excess phosphorus in water, preventing algae blooms.

The algae blooms in South Florida have been a major concern since the spring. They developed in Lake Okeechobee and have spread to Florida’s coastlines, including beaches, leading the governor to declare a state of emergency.

Ultimately, the Purdue team hopes to create a small, self-contained unit capable of accepting wastewater as input, stripping it of phosphorus, cleaning it and outputting drinking water. The technology could be implemented at a wastewater treatment facility, in an agricultural ditch, within a city sewer or on the surface of a neighborhood reservoir like the Celery Bog. The possibilities are numerous in both developed and developing countries.

The students, all in the colleges of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, also recognized an opportunity to generate energy during this uptake process. In microbial desalination cells (MDCs), small bacterial batteries produce electricity as cells munch on waste, cleaning water in another chamber. A second strain of bacteria capable of conducting electricity through tiny external appendages called organic nanowires will be designed to facilitate water purification within MDCs.

“The beauty of iGEM – the Purdue iGEM team in particular – lies in the opportunity for creative experimental design and execution entirely by undergraduate students,” said Paige Rudin, a sophomore biomedical engineering student from Carmel, Indiana. “We want to impact the community with creative ideas and implement the innovations to solve real problems.”

More information about the project is available at https://experiment.com/projects/engineering-e-coli-to-treat-wastewater-and-generate-energy.

Purdue Agriculture, 615 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-8391

© 2015 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Copyright Complaints | Maintained by Agricultural Communication

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact Agricultural Communication at agweb@purdue.edu.