At 4:00 PM, October 20th (Beijing time) GA_State_SW_Jiaotong, a joint team of Georgia State University and Southwest Jiaotong University, held a mutual discussion meeting about our projects with the SCU-China iGEM team of Sichuan University. SCU-China hopes to construct a set of eukaryotic polycistron exogenous gene expression systems to realize abscisic acid biosynthesis in Saccharomyces cerevisiae to prevent the effects of climate change on Spring weather patterns. We really appreciated their CRISPR experiments, data analysis, and predictive software design. We have learned a lot about data processing methods. In addition, we suggested that they highlight their key points and focus on using logical reasoning in their presentation. Since the greenhouse effect is becoming more serious, our GA_State_SW_Jiaotong team hopes to transform the symbiotic Symbiodium of coral by introducing a plasmid carrying coral bleaching resistance genes to improve its heat tolerance, which could prevent the loss of marine resources. The SCU-China team praised our hardware work and the impact of human practice. At the same time, their team shared with us a lot of notes and experience. They told us some tips about this competition, such as the poster question session, the requirements of awards, and the development suggestions of human practice.
At 7pm on October 19, Professor Lin Xin from Xiamen University was invited to meet over video with our GA_State_SW_Jiaotong iGEM team. She patiently answered our questions and puzzles about this project and detailed experimental steps. As a knowledgeable expert in the field of coral symbiotic algae research, Professor Lin Xin has 42 publications about culturing phytoplankton and molecular gene transformation research, and has made outstanding contributions to the research and conservation of coral.
In the video dialogue, we focused our attention and eagerly asked questions. Professor Lin quoted from many sources, answered questions and gave valuable advice to the project team. The conversation with Professor Lin mainly revolved around algal gene transformation and algal culture. We asked Dr. Lin whether there was a successful transformation method for Symbiodinium, but she replied that this is not likely in current global studies. The transformation of Symbiodinium (even using biolistics) is very difficult because of its special shell and plate structure and complex chromosome. After that, we also asked about the prospect of using genetic engineering to modify Symbiodinium to alleviate coral bleaching. Dr. Lin gave high praise for this idea, saying that her own research group has been doing relevant research, and the biggest problem we’re now facing is ecological risk assessment. We also asked other questions about algae culture and resistant gene screening methods. Professor Lin suggested that we sequence our specific Symbiodinium because there are many clades, such as BCDF, that have different heat resistance ability and coral acceptability. At the end of the meeting, She expressed her support and encouragement for this project, which inspired us to keep moving forward despite the difficulties that we will encounter.
Professor Lin Xin
Coral Human Practices
The Georgia State University iGEM team in collaboration with Southwest Jiaotong University of Chengdu, China has gathered much scientific knowledge and advice about coral culturing and speciation characteristics through support from the Atlanta Reef Club (ARC). The ARC provides our iGEM team with a forum where we are allowed to communicate our setbacks and advances in our research with 200 or more other coral and marine life enthusiasts. Starry night corals, an Acropora from the Acroporidae coral family along with corals from the Pocilloporidae coral family known as, Seriapora and Stylophora were among the genuses of corals donated for the use of our lab and remote saltwater tanks by leaders/members of the ARC known by the names of Trizzino, Urbanknight, and HSon. The ARC has provided knowledge about optimal tank temperatures and other marine life maintenance factors such as salinity, acidity, and nitrogen levels to help ensure the survival and health of the coral as our project continues.
ATL Reef Club Questions and Our Answers
“What specifically is being modified?” “Specifically, what part(s) of a corals anatomy does the research apply to?”
- Does the resistance gene group have an answer for this?
- We don’t plan on modifying the coral specifically other than culturing them and purposefully bleaching them for a short amount of time so they expel their current algae and uptake the algae that we are engineering. We plan on modifying the DNA in the algae to potentially upregulate their heat shock response so they are less likely to produce ROS or reactive oxygen species and be expelled from their host coral. A buildup of ROS could lead to damaged DNA, proteins, and even cause cell death which could be the reason that corals “kick out” their algae.
We hope that our research will act as a stepping stone to the solution for coral bleaching. If the heat shock response is regulated and algae are less likely to be expelled, then corals would be able to tolerate higher temperatures and the repercussions of coral bleaching would be avoided as well.
“Will resulting research information provide a basis for long term care for our coral eco- systems?”
Do we want the algae to remain there forever or will there be a “kill-switch” to turn them off once reefs have recovered?
It would be ideal if the human race can bring down the increasing global temperature enough for corals to recover naturally. However, if temperatures continue to rise or stay at the level that they currently are, then corals may continually need genetically engineered assistance to survive these massive heat waves. However, there are ways to avoid the algae being there indefinitely (see last question).
Unfortunately, bleached corals only have a short window of time to recover. The goal of our modified algae is to prevent further bleaching. But if we are able to stop bleaching in its tracks, then we hope to do so. Since we need to expel the current algae to introduce our algae, the corals will have to be temporarily bleached anyway, but should soon recovery after they uptake.
“What is the specific end results the GMO research hopes to attain?” Are we preventing bleaching events or restoring bleached coral to health?
”...In my head, I'm thinking of a scenario where the GMO algae become so dominant that other naturally occurring algae get out-competed to a point where they're only found in our little glass boxes….. “
- Have we considered ways to prevent this or do we think it won’t happen?
- As of right now, we are unable to keep these algae alive for a significant amount of time let alone reproduce. However, this is definitely something we should consider and one way to avoid this issue is to only introduce our algae to corals in coral farms and away from reefs. This way they are separated from the other symbiotic microalgae that occupy the other coral types in reefs. An overabundance of algae has devastating effects on coral reefs and not being careful about this could negate all the research being done. But at that stage in the project, we would have the help of other researchers, experts in the field, and coral & algae specialists, so we would ensure we won’t have this issue.