Team:Botchan Lab Tokyo/Human Practices


Integrated Human & Practice

Why did we set up this project?

We focused on the ecological impact of nicotine released into the environment and wanted to solve the problem. And we envisioned sources of nicotine runoff as waste from tobacco-producing factories, surplus crops and leaves from tobacco farmers, and water and tobacco litter that accumulates in smoking areas.
Since nicotine is a substance that is difficult to break down or convert into other substances through chemical pathways, we thought it appropriate to use synthetic biology. For plan using E. coli as a chassis, E. coli is more used in industrial field. Compared with P. putida S16, E. coli has better understanding of basic synthetic biology tools, for instance, lux and tet system. Also, by pushing this plan, genes form P. putida S16 will be characterized and future iGEMer and synthetic biologist can benefit from them. For plan using P. putida S16 as a chassis, the metabolic pathway of P. putida S16 is used. Regarding the fact that environment for enzymes is suitable and nicotine might be harmful for E. coli, higher yield and better degradation ability are assumed.

Our goal is to create a “nico-friendly” society

It has been calculated that between 0.6 and 32 μg/L of nicotine is currently released into the environment and as an endocrine disruptor, it affects the reproduction and growth of organisms such as daphnids.
However just banning tobacco is not practical, and it's also not practical for the tobacco farmers who make a living selling tobacco leaves, the local government, and the smokers. We wondered if we could create a “nico-friendly society” without hurting anyone. Protecting people's livelihoods in the tobacco-related industry, while protecting the environment I came up with a project that would not release nicotine in environment.

To get tobacco surplus crop and crop waste from tobacco farmers.

Our first step was to contact Kagoshima Prefecture, the largest producer of tobacco leaves in Japan. We talked to the person who manages the tobacco farmers there and asked him if it would be feasible to actually get the extra tobacco from the farmers. The conclusion was that it was feasible. We thought we could use synthetic biology to synthesize the raw materials for fertilizer from the leftover tobacco given to us by the farmers and return it to the farmers.

The meeting with Mr. Mochizuki (JAPAN TOBACCO INC.) changed our project.

However, a meeting with Mr. Mochizuki of JAPAN TOBACCO INC., the only company licensed to produce tobacco in Japan, changed the direction of the project. We had assumed that the source of nicotine leakage to the environment would be tobacco farmers and the nicotine-contaminated industrial waste from their factories, but at that meeting, we realized that Japanese tobacco factories do not produce nicotine-contaminated waste, and that the surpluses from tobacco farmers, such as the shoots and the leftover trunks, would not contain nicotine. He pointed out that it doesn't contain much, and that collecting the armpits and remaining trunks can be a burden for farmers, as well as costly to transport and preserve. We realized that what we thought was good for our farmers was actually a burden on them.
So, we decided to look more realistically at the actual nicotine being released into the environment, either from cigarette butts or water in smoking areas. It was a very meaningful meeting that changed the direction of our project.

To make the project more realistic, we contacted four volunteer organizations

We turned our attention to cigarette butts and contacted four volunteer organizations that picks up cigarette butts in order to learn more about the current state of littering. We thought it would be difficult to collect a sufficient amount of cigarette butts, but we found out that some volunteer teams collected 500 cigarette butts in one hour, that many of them burned the cigarette butts they picked up, and that many of them thought it would be a good idea to have a system to collect cigarette butts. We have found that it is possible to provide cigarette butts. This means that if we build a system to collect cigarette butts, we can expect to collect a lot of them. Furthermore, as our project progresses and people realize the value of cigarette butts, we will develop a system to collect them and reduce the amount of cigarettes thrown away. Thus, we have contacted and received advice from various organizations to confirm and enhance the need and feasibility of our project.