About This Project
We're studying the effects of engineering E. coli riboswitches, parts of mRNA that target small molecules, on maintaining safe fluoride levels in water. 1 in 10 people worldwide is without a safe source of drinking water, so this project is imperative to improving global health, especially since the current method of monitoring fluoride is extremely expensive. We were inspired to do this project after the water system in our hometown was contaminated with excessive fluoride.
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What is the context of this research?
The current methods of maintaining safe levels of fluoride are expensive, so using an alternative solution would be much more efficient. By engineering the genetic composition of riboswitches in nonpathogenic E. coli, our team will be able to develop a synthetic biology tool that can be used to detect and sequester fluoride from water. Also, since fluoride-sensing genetic mechanisms in bacteria were recently discovered, these riboswitches need further characterization. Speaking from personal experience, this project is especially applicable today, as our town just had the water supply contaminated with excessive levels of fluoride, forcing the water to be rerouted, which caused a water main to break and lose millions of gallons of water.
What is the significance of this project?
783 million people worldwide don't have access to safe drinking water, and in 2010, 41% of children in the United States between the ages 12-15 had some form of dental fluorosis, a disease that can cause tooth damage. Global access to safe, clean water is becoming increasingly limited - over 315,000 children per year die from diseases caused by unsafe water. As the amount of contaminated water increases from pollution and manmade causes, it is even more important that the water people drink is safe. That is why our project is so crucial - it will make possible a method to maintain safe fluoride levels to improve global water quality.
What are the goals of the project?
We would like to raise $4500 to make the investigation into these riboswitches possible at the iGEM competition. We also believe that this project will raise important questions about water safety and ensure that all people have access to safe drinking water. We are working with a graduate mentor at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, who has helped us formulate a hypothesis and research methods. We are planning to acquire the materials, such as the E. coli, from local companies, and we will be using both UNC's and ECHHS's lab facilities beginning in May through September to test the responsiveness of fluoride riboswitches and determine if we can improve the properties of this natural switch.
Our project requires $4500 for our team registration for the international genetics competition (iGEM (2017.igem.org) ) in Boston, Massachusetts. We are also trying to raise the $695 (per person) Giant Jamboree fee for the team members to attend the competition. We will also need additional funds for travel and lodging, which is nearly another $400 per person.
Meet the Team
I am a high schooler fascinated with natural science and organic chemistry. I compete in the North Carolina Oceans Bowl and Science Olympiad, and I became interested in environmental biology after helping to run local efforts to clean up waterways.
I am a protein scientist studying the role of ubiquitin in biology, although I am interested in just about all types of science. One of my motivations is to share my enthusiasm for science with younger people and teach them how to apply the scientific method to problems. I am also interested in finding ways to communicate science with the general public more effectively.
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