NRP-UEA-Norwich

Description: We are a group of undergraduate students from the University of East Anglia, which is renowned for its environmental awareness and climate change research. We are studying subjects that range from Biological Sciences, Biochemistry, Biomedicine, Computing Sciences, Molecular Biology and Natural Sciences. Having been selected for this year’s iGEM team, we are identifying ways to bring synthetic biology techniques to an interdisciplinary research project that is currently ongoing within our university. The Science Increasing fuel poverty and global climate change are driving the global demand for clean energy. Renewable sources of energy, such as sunlight, remain largely untapped due to challenges arising from the intermittent nature of the source. In a coal fire power plant or a nuclear fission reactor it is possible to control energy output in line with fluctuating demands for power. However with renewable sources, such as wind or solar power, electricity is only generated when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. Thus, a major challenge for renewable energy sources is in converting these types of renewable energy into fuels that can be used to release the harnessed renewable energy as it is needed. The aim of our project is to use the methods of synthetic biology to prepare biological systems that will store solar energy as hydrogen due to the channelling of electrons from photovoltaic cells into bacteria via proteins termed “molecular nanowires”. In this way bacteria can then use this energy to drive the production of hydrogen, and this can be used to sustainably power vehicles or be burned to produce electricity on demand. The Research ‘Rock-breathing’ bacteria such as Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, are microbes that couple the generation of proton-motive force across the cytoplasmic membrane to reduction of minerals, located outside of the cell. The MtrC, MtrA and MtrB proteins come together to form the MtrCAB complex that spans the outer membrane in S. oneidensis MR-1. This complex has been shown to contain a network of iron atoms that conduct electrons between the cell and its environment, leading to them being termed “molecular nanowires”. The electrons transferred across the membrane can then be used by hydrogenase proteins that catalyse the reduction of protons (2H+) to dihydrogen (H2). The process is inefficient however and we aim to explore ways of increasing its efficiency, for example through use of alternative hydrogenases or alternate subunits. Additionally we wish to control protein expression at a genetic level in order to optimise the protein ratio for maximum cellular H2 production. Lastly we are also looking into ways of increasing the efficiency of electron recruitment to hydrogenase by experimenting with various modifications to the enzyme. The MtrCAB proteins have been the focus of several previous iGEM projects and one additional aim of our project will be to improve the utility of biobricks that are already housed within the iGEM repository. Ultimately, we hope to increase the yield of clean hydrogen produced from S. oneidensis MR-1 in a microbial-photovoltaic fuel cell. The development of efficient mechanisms for storing of energy produced from renewable sources will help counteract intermittency costs and aid their development and economic viability.
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Year: 2016Visit Wiki
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Updated at: 8/9/16