Team:FDR-HB Peru/Human Practices

iGEM - FDR_HB Home

[ Human Practices ]

Integrated Human Practices

Year Overview

TASA (Tecnologia de Alimentos SA) has been our sponsor and collaborator during the execution of the project. We periodically present them our progress and they provide us with useful feedback that guides us toward the future by letting us know which of our decisions and ideas are best suited to their needs. They also continuously inform us about the production of fishmeal, data regarding the state of fishmeal, as well as other vital information for the development of the project.

TASA Facts

  • Worldwide leader of the fishing sector.
  • Produce 25% of the fishmeal in peru and 10% of the fishmeal in the world.
  • Centered on innovation principles.
  • 14 factories along the peruvian coastline (Assess pollutant variations depending on location)

FDR-HB Peru and TASA: The Beginning

As a team we believe that being able to make a lasting impact on others in a positive way is crucial, which is why our members have worked diligently when it comes to interacting with our community. We have tried our best to understand our stakeholder’s needs and after various meetings with them, the problems that they need a solution for have become our team’s main focus.

Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Colegio Hiram Bingham are located in the coastal city of Peru called Lima. This means many of our members have grown up near the ocean and so has our community. Due to us living near the ocean we consume large quantities of seafood causing us to constantly be worried about the heavy metal contamination in one of our main sources of food: fish. So last year our project focused on alleviating heavy metal contamination in the fishing industry. This is where TASA, our current sponsor, comes in. TASA is the biggest fishing company in all of South America and they export their products, including fishmeal, to various countries all around the globe. They test for over 20 pollutants, which include testing for several heavy metals in their products and their current practice is to dilute the pollutants to meet international standards around the globe. This means that it’s not only Peru being affected by the contamination, the rest of the world is affected as since the pollutants are still being shipped out with the contaminated fishmeal. We decided to establish a solid collaboration with TASA, to figure out how exactly our team could help.

Previous Visits

Our current relationship with TASA began on May 24, 2019 when we discussed our ideas regarding the ways in which synthetic biology could solve their problems with pollutants. They became very excited and explained that cadmium contamination is their biggest concern because of the tight international regulations that limit the amount of cadmium allowed in their fish products. Their biggest problem is that they have no way of determining the amount of cadmium in their fish meal until after they have bagged all of their products and sent a sample to a laboratory. Thus, if cadmium levels are too high, they have to reopen the bagged products in order to dilute the fishmeal that have high levels of cadmium with other baches of fishmeal that have a much lower concentration of cadmium. This is problematic because the company wastes time and money reopening their products and in the end, the cadmium never leaves the cycle, it simply gets diluted.

This is what our team aims to change so after discussing with TASA that we were eager to help them find a solution to their problem they granted us with $2,000 to help us get started with our project. Our team began to focus our project on creating a detection system for TASA to use.

But we initially wondered how early in the fishmeal making process we could actually test for cadmium. This is why our team visited their production plant on June 22, 2019. We were shown the whole process that the fish underwent, starting from the ocean and ending up as powder in bags. The head of the production department gave us specific details about each component of the production process and we started to create a plan. We also learned that TASA is conducting a mapping project to determine the cadmium levels in the fish and product at different places on the production line. We also wanted to answer the question whether the cadmium becomes more concentrated as the fish become compressed into the fishmeal?

As we were talking with the scientists we learned that it takes about 9-12 hours to process fishmeal from fish. We started brainstorming with the scientists about when in the production line we could test. And we realized that since we are creating a bioassay with live bacteria, we needed many hours. So we started to think that maybe we should create a bioassay for the boat so the test could be completed before the bagging process begins. Therefore we decided to create a device that could detect cadmium concentrations in the fish while they were still on the fishing boat. This way they could apply the information as soon as possible and speed up production.

Startup Visit 2020

During our meeting with TASA on July 3rd, 2020, our team had the opportunity to present our progress and retain the information needed to move forward with the project during the quarantine. Having executive and administrative members as well as scientists allowed us to collectively decide to pursue a cell-free system for the coming season.

TASA Meeting Notes

Changing the Project

The decision to transition to a cell-free approach changed our project from a hardware and synbio perspective. The construct had to be adapted to allow for cell-free expression (We are going to test a T7 promoter alongside our current promoter), and we had to start researching protocols to make the cell-free system as user-friendly as possible. Freeze-drying techniques were researched.

In order to make hardware's previous work relevant, an additional task was created. After attending several Jamborees, we came to the harsh realization that third world nations or underprivileged regions/continents were underrepresented due to the lack of resources and funding needed to partake in this science field. Africa and Latin America together accounted for less than 4% of the teams. With that said, we aimed to turn our economical shaking incubator into a database manual that any institution could rely on to pursue their own synbio projects. The manual is a work in progress that will be finalized when certain dimensions are retrieved (Accessibility problems due to quarantine).

Community Influence on our Project

  1. Based on our discussions with TASA, we decided to try to find cadmium.
  2. Based on our visit to TASA’s factory we decided to create a bioassay or use a cell-free system that could be used early on in the anchovy harvest process.
  3. We are making a bioassay that fisherman can use on their boats in the current season of fishing. Ultimately we hope to create a dipstick without live cells that fisherman can use on the boat.
  4. Eventually, we want to work towards a method that can actually remove Cadmium from the fishmeal.

Our Project Influence on the Community

  1. We aim to dramatically lower production costs and time for TASA and provide a more environmentally sustainable approach to detecting and removing cadmium from the fishmeal before production and bagging.
  2. We will help reduce global exposure to cadmium levels, especially as we work towards a removal solution.

Why Cell-Free? TASA's Perspective

TASA opted to pursue the cell-free system for various reasons. This system would not use bacteria, which would eliminate the need to worry about regulations and contamination. It would allow the detection of cadmium to be simpler, as the dipstick would just turn different intensities of red depending on the varying amounts of cadmium detected. It would be quite easy to educate workers about how to use them. Finally, it is time-efficient which is of great importance to TASA considering the fishmeal production system is very short. The test would provide results in 1-4 hours, which would allow them to use the test later in the production process if needed.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each system. The cell-free system is easier to use and easier to effectively educate fishermen. Most importantly, it doesn’t require the maintenance of living organisms. However, this system is more expensive than the shaking incubator, which only requires access to a 3D printer and a laser cutter. In addition, the shaking incubator would require maintaining bacterial organisms is each boat which would be would be difficult and complex. Especially since educating fishermen on the matter would be very challenging. Keeping track of the way bacteria is disposed of would also be a risk that would pose ethical problems to the company due to Peru's very strict laws on GMOs. Taking all of this into consideration, Cell-Free was the clear answer.

Moving Forward With TASA

There are several ways in which we are going to move forward with TASA. For instance, they will provide us the data needed to map the correlation of cadmium concentrations in different stages of the fishmeal production process including the anchovy stage to develop a mathematical model. Having this information would allow us to ensure that our bacteria are testing for the right concentration depending on the different stages. At the moment, due to the way volume is compressed throughout the process (4 tons of anchovy become 1 ton of fishmeal), we are assuming that a 0.5 ppm initial concentration would indicate a maximum final 2 ppm cadmium concentration. We reasonably infer this since cadmium does not exit the fish through the oil, however, proper statistical analysis must be conducted to ensure the reliability of the test.

Moving forward, we will also be working with the scientists at TASA to conduct the freeze-drying experiments to determine whether our construct can be turned into a dipstick (Hardware). These experiments will occur once the team finds a safe way to fast-track the master-mix (material) through Peruvian customs. This product may not be left at regular temperatures for a long time which is a huge risk at the moment.

Finally, we aim to work closely with TASA's administrative and human resources team in order to get input from the fishermen and how comfortable they are with the cell-free system in comparison to the orbital shaker. A questionnaire in Spanish made by our team will be released the following fishing season (December).

TASA Questionnaire