From the very beginning of our iGEM journey, we planned for CYANOTRAP to be a real product, useful in real life. We realise that, at this point, we are still too far from the actual practical implementation of our device, but we have quite a precise idea of how it will all function together.
We plan for CYANOTRAP to be a device floating on the water surface. The device itself will be controlled remotely. Drone flying above the water body will navigate our device into areas with higher concentrations of cyanobacterial bloom. The drone could also send data to an app that would serve swimmers and fishermen looking for a safe place for their hobbies. This system will provide a faster, more targeted, efficient and safe way to achieve clean water for the sake of the environment, as well as humans. Eutrophic water will then flow inside our device through a series of filters, preventing larger particles from damaging the interior of CYANOTRAP. There, our GMO Bacillus subtilis immobilised on cellulose beads will do all the work – lysing cyanobacteria, degrading microcystin and accumulating phosphorus. Phosphorus mining is a big plus of CYANOTRAP, as lowering phosphorus levels in water bodies prevents cyanobacterial overpopulation and enables collected phosphorus to be used where needed. Filters will be also placed on the outlet of the device. These filters and quorum sensing-based autolysis system will prevent GMOs from escaping into nature.
We believe that CYANOTRAP will be very useful to its potential users. As we've consulted a few experts in water treatment, we found out that some strains of genetically modified Bacillus subtilis are already being used to combat cyanobacterial overpopulation. This might help us as users can be more open to technologies they are familiar with. Moreover, we believe CYANOTRAP to be more effective and complex so it will be able to compete with other products on the market.
Considering the financial burden of launching our product, this could be potentially done through a spin-off company, with Masaryk University sharing the ownership. Funding will be provided mainly by grants and potential investors.
We believe CYANOTRAP to be effective but also friendly to nature and biodiversity. Therefore, it could be used in natural reserves, natural aquaparks, water tanks or other water bodies where maintaining water quality, as well as biodiversity, is a priority. This would be done using the so-called B2B (business to business) partnership with our company selling CYANOTRAP to other companies or governmental institutions. Nowadays, when water quality is an important issue, the values we are offering - clean water, the responsibility to nature and better conditions for tourism - are indeed priceless.
Every project utilizing GMOs faces many safety challenges. Proper safety rules are not only critical for the sake of our conscience, they are also defined by law. Therefore, we will have to apply for a permit to handle GMOs at the Ministry of Environment in the Czech Republic. As mentioned above, we plan to introduce filters preventing GMOs from escaping into the environment. Moreover, a quorum sensing-based autolysis system will trigger cell death as they get further away from other bacteria producing the quorum-sensing molecules.
We are also aware of the controversy and fear surrounding GMOs in the eyes of the general public and it might present a great challenge for the implementation of our project. We believe that this is often caused by misinformation or manipulation of the general public. Therefore, we decided to create a lecture discussing the topic of genetic modifications in a rational and easily digestible manner. We already presented this lecture in Brno and Kroměříž and also at summer camps for high school students interested in biology. We take it as our personal goal to spread accurate information about GMOs and educate as many people as possible.
However, the engineering part still presents the biggest obstacle to the realization of our project. Although we have quite detailed plans, all aspects need to be considered again and planned and modelled carefully so the final product will work flawlessly and effectively. Also, as we realised during our summer in the lab, the practical realisation of one's ideas can be much more complicated than first assumed. Therefore, it will take years to implement CYANOTRAP in the real world. Nevertheless, we are working towards this goal with passion.
Figure 1 Our vision of CYANOTRAP
Figure 2 Photo from our lecture about GMOs