By designing a new protein for a common plant, Missouri S&T students can identify contaminated groundwater in the environment and assure homeowners that their drinking water is clean from pollutants.
Missouri S&T’s chapter of iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation, presented its research findings during the iGEM 2017 Giant Jamboree Nov. 9–13 in Boston.
The project, titled “Detectable Bio-Sensing Processes in Arabidopsis,” uses thale cress, a common weed in Europe and Asia, as a model plant to biologically sense groundwater contaminated by the chemical trichloroethylene, which is commonly used in industrial solvents.
The Missouri S&T iGEM team has designed a protein that binds across a plasma membrane in the plant’s cells to trap trichloroethylene. The plant detects the chemical contaminant and then turns “clearer” to indicate exposure. Thale cress could be planted around factories to verify that proper decontamination standards are being met or even could be used as house plants to ensure the cleanliness of drinking water.