About This Project
Our high school team hopes to present our Mars colonization project at an international science competition in Boston (iGEM). A Martian colony must make efficient use of the planet’s limited resources. Martian soil contains high levels of perchlorate (ClO4) making it toxic. Our team is developing an automated prototype for ClO4 extraction, its conversion to rocket fuel, and its genetically engineered biodegradation to oxygen. Remediated soil can then be recycled for construction and agriculture.
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What is the context of this research?
This project was hatched from what we learned of iGEM from the “Fusion” Science Expo we attended last fall, and the movie, “The Martian”. When we dug deeper, we stumbled on the work of Davila et al  who proposed that that toxic concentrations of ClO4 in Martian soil was actually a resource that could be exploited both as a source of rocket fuel and O2, while remediating the soil in the process. It was also shown that 2 enzymes from soil bacteria on earth could biodegrade ClO4 to O2. Here, we plan to build on this work and others ,  by developing an integrated and inexpensive process for: 1) perchlorate extraction, purification and concentration using activated charcoal, and 2) using engineered E. coli that grows on colony bio-waste to efficiently convert ClO4 to O2.
What is the significance of this project?
Stephen Hawking recognized that humans are like eggs in a basket - drop the basket and all is lost. Planet Earth is the basket, and over the long-term, a calamity - be it through climate change, disease, asteroid collisions, etc. - is a statistical certainty. Colonizing Mars is the first step in distributing the eggs to other baskets. However, colonies must be able to sustain themselves on what can be found locally. There isn’t much on Mars, but there is perchlorate, and that is why we feel that this project and others like it will contribute significantly to what is evolving into a major international effort. In short term, Mars missions will develop, and spin-off a range of creative technologies that will allow us all to live more comfortably, efficiently, and cleanly on planet Earth.
What are the goals of the project?
Our project has two main themes: 1) the extraction, purification and concentration of ClO4 from Martian soil, and 2) the bioconversion of ClO4 to oxygen using genetically engineered E. coli. These themes and others are covered more thoroughly under “Lab Notes”. ClO4 is highly soluble in water. We are testing the idea that ClO4 can be highly enriched and concentrated inexpensively using activated charcoal, as previously shown for a similar compound . For O2 production, we plan to synthesize and express the genes from the soil bacterium that are responsible for ClO4 breakdown, Ideonella dechloratans,  into the bacterium E. coli. We have also developed a method for the recycling of Martian colony biowaste into a highly enriched media for bacterial growth.
We are 18 students representing 4 high schools in Edmonton, Canada. We hope to attend the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) Jamboree competition that will be held in Boston this fall. iGEM’s focus is on synthetic biology, an emerging field that unites biology with engineering. Student teams are evaluated not only on the originality and execution of their research projects, but also on a variety of other criteria that include: the ability to communicate complicated ideas effectively, adherence to ethical and legal principles, and the relevance of their work to real-world problems.
Our team is very fortunate to have the support of some generous professors at the University of Alberta who have provided lab space, equipment and the chemicals we need to pursue our project. Our major challenge is to raise the $17,000 required to register our team.
Meet the Team
We are a group of students from four different Edmonton high schools who will be spending our summer together doing incredible research. Most of us are recent high school graduates who will be attending our first year of university this upcoming fall.
Through our interest in the STEM fields, we chose to participate in an international competition called iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine). The aim of iGEM is to find solutions to large-scale problems through the use of synthetic biology.
It's our collective passion and curiosity for science and creativity that brought us all together. All of us have our own unique and individual skill sets, making full use of the interdisciplinary nature of our project. We are aspiring engineers, medical doctors, research scientists, architects, and computer programmers.
We are currently working on our research in the Medical Science Building at the University of Alberta, supervised, trained, and mentored, by university students and professors.
In the interest of serving the public, we have been hosting presentations, hand-on classes, and demonstrations at local elementary and junior high schools. This complements our goals in sharing our experiences in hopes of teaching and inspiring the younger generation about science, engineering, and biology.
Hi, I am a recent high school graduate student from Edmonton, Alberta. My favorite past-times are reading, biking and playing piano. It is amazing how life as we know it is composed fundamentally of science. I dream to create new technologies and help humanity. Science is definitely a vital part of me; and I plan to contribute something extraordinary to science in return.
I too am a recent high school graduate, and will be in my first year of Engineering at the University of Alberta this upcoming fall.
My passion lies in being immersed in the frontiers of science - addressing big problems, and seeking methods of solving them. Never have I been given a greater opportunity to do that than being a part of this research team.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, building a network with an amazing group of people and creating value for the masses are my two biggest life goals. I see this project as a first step in accomplishing that.
“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” ― Steve Jobs
I am a high school graduate planning to pursue a career in radiation therapy or oncology. On the team, I am one of the student researchers. I really enjoy learning about biology and physics, so iGEM provides a multidisciplinary approach at synthetic biology that interests me a lot. I'm really excited to see what I discover! Outside of the lab, I am a gamer, reader, and hot pot enthusiast.
As a child, I always fantasized about humans living on different planets. Because of that, I've never been more eager to experiment and do research on this project. Aspiring to become an engineer, I love the way this project challenges me apply problem solving techniques to real-world problems. In my spare time, I enjoy playing various card games and board games with my friends.
I am a recent high school graduate from Edmonton, Alberta, going off to pursue my dream of becoming an architect. Ever since I was a child I have loved creating things with my own hands. Through creation, my physical form becomes immortalized. Human life is short and I want to make the most of it. This is why I joined iGEM; I am able to push past the boundaries of life itself.
Sushil Kumar Senthil Kumar
I have always wanted to be a research scientist. My favorite part about research is the learning experience you get by trying several methods to find a solution to a hypothesis. iGEM gives me the opportunity to experience something that is totally beyond what an average high school student would do with their summer. As a hobby, I enjoy watching movies and creating functional computer programs.
"No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong." - Albert Einstein
Hello, my name is Seymur Dadashov and I am freshly graduated high school student out of Archbishop MacDonald. Ever since I was young I was interested in the inner workings of things, whether it was the physical breakdown of how my toy functioned to the what I now know as the principles of physics that bind our universe together. The field of science and mathematics has appealed to me greatly over the course of my life and as a result I decided to start my next year at university as a prospective engineering student. Over the course of the summer I will be partaking in the iGEM competition where I hope to learn a lot more about the different fields in science and how they all intertwine with one another. Although these are more academic related factors of my life, I am still an 18 year old who enjoys to take relaxing bike rides, eat delicious food, and play games with friends.
Hey! My name is Teresa and I'm a graduate from Archbishop Macdonald High School in Edmonton, Alberta. I've always considered myself an explorer. As curiosity is the primary driving force in me, it pushes me to explore many aspects in my life including those of the science, humanities, arts, and spiritual fields. By joining iGEM, I hope to be able to research synthetic biology- a new field of science that has always peaked my interest. With the research the experiment entails, not only will I be able to explore synthetic biology, but I will also get a taste of the exploration behind being an astronaut.
An ultimate goal in my life (like many other explorers) is to leave behind a footprint in humanity.
Hello, my name is Kelly and I am a high school graduate from Edmonton, Alberta. Discovering answers to questions I never even thought of asking amazes me and biology, and chemistry are my favourite subjects. I see iGEM as an amazing opportunity to connect my passion for science with a hands-on learning experience. I have high hopes that I will be able to learn a lot from working on this project.
I also enjoy making origami and baking.
Hello, I'm Konrad and I'm a high school student from Edmonton, Alberta. I remember being about 6 years old when I asked my parents: why does the moon move and “follow” me wherever I go? My parents simply explained that the moon was so far away that my running would not affect the angle at which I perceived it. This answer not being good enough for me, I spent the next few days experimenting with placing objects at varying distances and moving around while making mental notes about what I was observing in order to explain the moon phenomenon. Since then, I have been possessed to try to find out as much as I can about the world that I live in through broadening my knowledge of physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics through experimentation. I believe that iGEM is an incredible opportunity for me to explore the facets of true scientific research. I believe that this experience will help me grow as a person and will give me a grander perspective on my direction of life in general.
Hello, my name is Emmanuel Nnamani. I am a recent high school graduate from Edmonton, Alberta. Ever since I was a child I have been drawn to the mysteries of the universe. I love biology, chemistry and physics; it's fascinating to see how our universe and life as we know it can be explained through science. This is the reason I became really interested in iGEM.
I am a 4th year undergraduate student in the Biochemistry Honors program. I was a part of the 2012 University of Alberta iGEM team and was one of two presenters who presented on behalf of our group. Since then, I have been involved in the synbio research community, winning a Silver Medal at the Canada-Wide Science Fair as well as receiving funding from AIHS and NSERC through my undergraduate research career and during high school. My research has been focused on the development of reverse genetics platforms for modifying viral genomes, in both bacterial and mammalian contexts. My current research is focused around swapping tail fibers between bacteriophages to produce phages with tailored host ranges for industrial applications.
I’m Ethan Agena and am a 2016 graduate of Archbishop MacDonald High School who has always been captivated by the field of Biology. Participating in the iGEM Competition, especially in this project, is truly a dream come true. In the fall, I will be pursuing a degree in engineering and I know that the opportunity that iGEM presents to actually apply science will be indispensable. Aside from Biology, my studies in Youtube and Netflix have also been quite enjoyable :)
I am a recent high school graduate planning on pursuing a degree in biomedical mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta. Aside from the lab work and research aspect, I also maintain Urban Tundra’s social media handles as part of our media outreach division.
Kim Chi Hang
Hi, my name is Kim and I am currently the youngest member of Urban Tundra Edmonton and a student at Archbishop MacDonald High School! I am a quiet introvert who loves expressing herself through art, and a philanthropist. I've always had a passion for science as well as a curious mind so I am very grateful for this opportunity of being in iGEM. What I love about being in UrbanTundra is that I never stop learning. The science that they teach you in elementary, junior high, and high school is only a sliver of what really defines science. In the future, I plan on being a neuropsychologist. Even though I plan on being a neuropsychologist, that doesn't stop me from exposing myself to other fields of science, right?
Hey! Do you love science? Because I LOVE science. Ever since I was a little kid I loved dissembling my toys and electronics, and tinkering with them. Eventually I learned that every part, no matter how small, had a purpose. And without that small part, the entire machine couldn't work. These relationships are what fascinated me the most, and science is the practice of dealing with these relationships and how to make new ones or improve previous ones. iGEM was another stepping stone in the quest to understand the connections that make up our world. The skills I have learned and will learn through iGEM will be another fundamental tool that I may use to understand the world around me. And with that in mind, the most powerful tool that anyone can have is knowledge.
In the lead up to NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover landing on Mars in 2011, my 6th grade teacher asked the class "will people ever live on Mars?". A startling majority of my class responded with an apathetic and pessimistic 'no, people will not live on Mars". I, however, was one of few who individuals who commandingly declared that the colonization of Mars was possible. My teacher asked what drew me to that conclusion, and I valiantly responded "no one ever thought we'd even reach the moon, but we did". My logic, yes, was a little flawed, but my answer encompassed something beyond my reasoning: optimism. And it is that optimism that inspired me as a child to try and innovate paper airplanes, inspires me now to refine my technological skills, and will inspire me to take action to achieve goals that were previously deemed impossible.
Christian Montiel Herrera
As a filmmaker I am glad I got the opportunity to join this team and document their progress from start to finish.
Hello, I'm Jacob Xiang and I'll be a first year attending the University of Alberta majoring in biochemistry in September.
I've always been fascinated by the fact that simple molecules make up all of life we know and I wanted to discover life from it's very basics. I joined IGEM for that very reason to learn and discover, and working with our mentors and professors I've never felt more fulfilling everyday. I hope to educate myself farther through the help and collaboration of my peers and mentors during this competition, and ultimately better my studies.
I am a high school student part of the UrbanTundra iGEM team. I am involved in the biochemistry research that our team is conducting and look forward to working together with my teammates to turn our vision into a reality.
I am a graduate of Jasper Place High school who is eager to supply and create solid graphic designs for a fascinating project run by my innovative peers!
 Davila, A.F, Willson, D. Coates, J.D. and McKay, C.P. Perchlorate on Mars: a chemical hazard and a resource for humans International Journal of Astrobiology (2013) Vol 10 pp 1-5.
 Bender, K.S., Shang, C. Chakraborty, R., Belchik, S.M., Coates,J.D. and Laurie, A.A. Identification, Characterization, and Classification of Genes Encoding Perchlorate Reductase J. Bacteriology (2005) Vol 187 pp5090–5096.
 Danielsson, H., Thorell, J., Karlsson, E.P., and Nilsson, T. Cloning, characterisation, and expression of a novel gene encoding chlorite dismutase from Ideonella dechloratans. Biochim Biophys Acta (2002) Vol 1577 pp445-451.
 Gu, B., Dowlen, K.E, Liang, L., and Clausen, J.L. Efficient separation and recovery of technetium-99 from contaminated groundwater. Separations Technology 6 (1996) 123-132
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