Food & Nutrition Track
Until 2014, Food and Energy were a single track in iGEM. In 2015, we separated these two concepts into the Food and Nutrition Track and the Energy Track. We want to highlight that while there is a lot of crossover in these two track ideas, they seek to resolve fundamentally different problems.
Everybody needs to eat. But with over 7 billion people on the planet, the problem of producing enough food and energy is complex and multi-faceted. While nations have different ideas about cuisine, everybody needs roughly the same number of calories per day. These calories can come from many sources, but global agricultural land and water use is increasingly stretched to cope with our current population. Better solutions that don't rely on unsustainable fishing practices, increased arable land and industrial agriculture are needed for the ever-growing population.
You will find images and abstracts of the winning Food & Nutrition track teams from 2015 to 2016 below.
According to Avocados Australia, the majority of damage to avocados occurs at the store level from people squeezing the fruit to test for ripeness. However, this sort of damage is not just isolated to avocados; so how else can we confidently predict the ripeness of fruit before buying it? iGEM USYD 2016 introduces FRES(H): a sticker that can “sense” the ripening hormone ethylene being produced by a piece of fruit. The sticker is a cell-based biosensor containing E. coli that express two Mycobacteria proteins. The first, a protein kinase, detects ethylene and phosphorylates the second protein, a response regulator. This interaction causes transcription of a chromoprotein, producing a bright blue colour. Through calibrating the sensitivity of the system, a whole range of ethylene levels can be detected, empowering fruit lovers with the knowledge they will be eating the freshest fruit every time.
NUTRInity: Make the gut a better world!
To tackle malnutrition and overconsumption of food represent one of the major challenges of humankind. The iGEM Team Marburg addresses these issues in a holistic approach by developing modular tools. Engineered, cell-based particles produce dietary supplements to alleviate malnutrition. A cell-free protein matrix with a functionalized surface targets specific nutrients to lower their concentration in the human gut. Furthermore, we engineer a contact-dependent delivery system that modifies the human gut microbial community. Taken together, we provide innovative solutions for improving and balancing nutrition at the interface of the human microbiome and gut.
Ferment It Yourself
Food fermentation is practiced by every culture in the world, and is especially widespread throughout the Indian subcontinent. Although fermentation enriches foods with some essential vitamins and amino acids, many regions of the subcontinent still suffer from high malnutrition. We are addressing this problem by engineering S. cerevisiae and lactobacilli, commonly found in Indian fermented rice dishes, to enrich foods with vitamins A, B2, and B12, and bioavailable iron. We also implemented a differentiation system for reducing the fitness cost of over-expression of multiple pathways, and an easy E. coli sensor for measuring vitamin concentration using a riboswitch. Our user-centered approach incorporates a low-cost and open hardware framework, both for growing and distributing starter cultures, and for quality control. This will give local affected populations power over their own food, as opposed to other GMO nutritional enrichment strategies, by allowing them to grow their own source of vitamins.
Engineering nutrition to increase colonic butryrate
Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths with 30,000 cases diagnosed every year in the United Kingdom. Studies suggest that resistant starches may reduce colon cancer by enabling colonic bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate. Our project took two approaches to increase colonic butyrate. The first approach was to develop a screen for enzymes that could transfer acyl/butyryl groups to alpha 1,4 carbohydrates in bacteria and plants. To support this we modelled and modified carbohydrate branching. Enzymatic modification of carbohydrates could also provide environmentally-friendly methods for the production of modified starches used in a wide range of industries. The second approach aimed to transfer the butyrate biosynthetic pathway to Escherichia coli. Our work could be applied to the production of butyrylated starches for consumption as prebiotics or butyrate-producing probiotics. We also investigated and compared the feasibility of testing these products for efficacy in humans.