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1. Project-based Field Survey ------ Investigation of Taihu Lake
< Why we choose Taihu Lake as our investigation destination?>
After we found the cyanobacteria problem in our campus, we decided to investigate the source of the problem ------ Taihu Lake.Thirteen years have passed since the cyanobacteria incident in Taihu Lake in 2007 which caused a threat to the safety of drinking water. The cyanobacteria in Taihu Lake has been treated for a long time, but at the turn of spring and summer, we can still smell the disgusting odor by the lakeside in the campus (Lihu lake in our campus is a tributary of Taihu Lake). Thus we visited the Taihu Lake to investigate the governance results over the past ten years.
< Who we met and What we learned during this investigation?>
We went to the cyanobacteria-scooping teams ------ Taihu Lake to have in-depth exchanges with workers. What we learned from the conversation with cyanobacteria-scooping team workers is that the government invested over 100 billion RMB ------ Taihu Lake and thousands of workers in the last few years, but still cannot root out the cyanobacteria problem.
< What we got through this field investigation?>
The information we got made us realize the seriousness of cyanobacteria bloom and inspire us to find a more cost-efficient way to fix it.
2. Research Significance for Local Community------Questionnaire on Cyanobacteria Bloom
< Did our project have some positive effect?>
We surveyed the residents around Taihu Lake and summarized relevant issues.
Statistics showed that the cyanobacteria incident (2007) in Taihu Lake was severe, and the residents today were still troubled by cyanobacteria and water quality problems at the turn of spring and summer.
Data from our questionnaire
< What we got through our questionnaire?>
Through this questionnaire, we confirmed the validity of our potential research project and we were sure that there would be a potential demand if we can produce something to work out cyanobacteria bloom.
3. Government Association------Guidance from Ecology and Environment Bureau
< What is Huishan Ecology and Environment Bureau?>
Huishan Ecology and Environment Bureau (EEB) is the agency of Wuxi Ecology and Environment Bureau in Huishan District, responsible for the environmental management and supervision. Under the supervision of EEB, the local water department carries out a series of environmental protection actions focusing on cyanobacteria bloom which is a seasonal problem in Taihu Lake form April to October every year.
Interview with Deputy Lu
Logo of Huishan Ecology and Environment Bureau
< Interview with Deputy Lu>
Q1 JN iGEMers: Where is the first place that cyanobacteria occur in Taihu Lake? The middle of the lake or the lakeside?
A1 Mr. Lu, Deputy Director of EEB: Though you can find most of the cyanobacteria by the lakeside, the problem was actually originated from the middle of Taihu Lake. Because of temperature and other factors, cyanobacteria will only gather in the bay in Wuxi and cause a severe local environmental disaster.
Q2 JN iGEMers：Does the cyanobacteria bloom influence the safety for domestic water in Wuxi City?
A2 Mr. Lu, Deputy Director of EEB: No. The water-intake is constructed in the middle of Taihu Lake where there was no cyanobacteria gathering problem. Suffered from the 2007 Cyanobacteria Pollution, Wuxi has upgraded and rebuilt its water purification system, with a capacity of solving low-concentration cyanobacteria problems. So, unless there is an enrichment of cyanobacteria in the middle area, the safety of domestic water can be guaranteed.
Q3 JN iGEMers: What is the main approach to handling the cyanobacteria currently?
A3 Mr. Lu, Deputy Director of EEB: If the bloom of cyanobacteria happens, EEB will organize professional cyanobacteria-scooping teams. Then, the salvaged cyanobacteria will be concentrated to mud and dried. In the end, the cyanobacteria bricks will be burned.
Q4 JN iGEMers: Will the current solution cause some secondary problems?
A4 Mr. Lu, Deputy Director of EEB: Yes. The burning of cyanobacteria will lead to some air pollution problems. Besides, transport of cyanobacteria from lakeside to factories will have some negative effects on the local community because of unpleasant smell from rotten cyanobacteria.
Q5 JN iGEMers: How can we solve the cyanobacteria bloom problem at the source? Can we use a biological way?
A5 Mr. Lu, Deputy Director of EEB: Cyanobacteria bloom is related with the lake eutrophication, especially the phosphorus. If you want to produce some biological reagents to solve cyanobacteria bloom, you also need to consider another long-lasting way to tackle the lake eutrophication. Compared with current solutions, biological ways can be much more environmental-friendly and cost-saving. We support all the efforts to explore new biological ways.
< What we got from the interview?>
Through the communication with the EEB, we learned that from January to December in 2019, among the 13 rivers flowing into Taihu Lake, only three rivers met the water quality standards, and the other 10 did not meet the standards (76.9% rivers cannot meet the water quality standards). The standards include permanganate, ammonia nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total nitrogen. What’s more, many residents confuse rain pipe with sewage pipe, thus a lot of sewage is let out to Taihu Lake, causing phosphorus eutrophication.
Result from statistical data offered by Huishan Ecology and Environment Bureau
Initial data offered by Huishan Ecology and Environment Bureau
< What we got through our government association ?>
Under the guidance of EEB, our team knew that current traditional burning method was defective and what we need to do is fix the problem of cyanobacteria gathering in a biological way considering the secondary pollution and costs !
4. Project Modification ------ Market Analysis & Workshop with Experts
< What we got from the market analysis?>
We can hardly find acid sophorolipid on the market and the quality of current products’ accurate ratio can not be guaranteed. The quality problem is noted on the companies’ selling websites because of the limitation of current fermentation technology.
Data searched from selling websites
< What modification we made on experiments after the workshop?>
We held a workshop with professors from School of Biotechnology and School of Environment and Civil Engineering from Jiangnan University. Through our deep communication, we found that sophorolipid can also be used in petroleum industry,soil remediation and other realms
Lactone sophorolipid has a good antimicrobial activity and acid one can influence the cell membrane because it is a perfect surfactant. Considering the difference of application environments, we inferred that different ratio of lactone and acid sophorolipid may fit different application environments.
To enlarge the potential application environments and improve product quality, different combination of promoters can be a wise choice to reach the different desired ratio without considering the difficult detection of different types of sophorolipid in different products and mixture of them.
Workshop with professors from different schools
< What we got through our market analysis and workshop with experts?>
Initially, we wanted to manufacture pure acid/lactone sophorolipid to tackle cyanobacteria bloom. But now, considering the different useful characteristics (Lactone sophorolipid can control cyanobacteria growing and acid one can kill cyanobacteria by destroying cell membrane), we changed our target and wanted to use varied ratios of lactone and acid sophorolipid to get a better environmental protection result and explore wider application objectives which means better economic effectiveness for manufacturers.
5. Environmental Research Institution Visit------Suggestions Jiangsu University
< Who did we interview with and Why?>
Professor from School of Environment and Safety Engineering, Jiangsu University
Research Area: Ecologic and environmental compensation techniques for water environment
< What we learned from her lecture?>
To help our team members know more about principles of environmental governance and the most popular approaches to reach the remediation of natural waters, Professor Zhou gave us a meaningful lecture. We were aware of the following things from her lecture:
(1) Fast reproduction of cyanobacteria will cause Algae Type Lake, which means that cyanobacteria occupy a dominant position in the ecosystem, causing the problems like simplicity and instability of the lake ecosystem.
(2) Now, people use physical, chemical, biological and ecological ways to solve the bloom of cyanobacteria. Among the four ways, the ecological way is the most useful and long-lasting one, but it needs some early-stage preparations like using some reagents to kill cyanobacteria in order to create an appropriate growing environment for other ecological plants. Compared with physical and chemical ways, the biological one is the most suitable way to be jointly used as a early-stage solution with the ecological one.
Lecture given by Professor Zhou on our project-related basic knowledge
< What consensus we reached through our communication?>
We discussed the method of application of sophorolipid and the factors which need to be considered when measuring the efficiency of degrading cyanobacteria.Professor Zhou acknowledged our plan of using our product --- sophorolipid to solve cyanobacteria bloom beacuse our product was produced by Starmerella Bombicla, which means it had a good biodegradability. What’s more, she recommended us to take the natural concentration of cyanobacteria into consideration and did not use an extreme concentration to measure the degradation efficiency. In regard to the application method, we reached a consensus that we should do four steps in the future : Laboratory experiment，Test in Experimental Field，Test in Treatment Plant and finally Release in Natural Water respectively.
< Case Analysis with Lab members>
Our team knew a case from the lab members that Nanjing government once used CuSO4 to kill cyanobacteria in Xuanwu Lake which is the most important lake in Nanjing. After the application of CuSO4 , the cyanobacteria disappeared in summer but another kind of plant invasion appeared in winter. From 2005 to 2020, the plant invasion is still a problem for Xuanwu Lake. We thought that the sudden plant invasion in Xuanwu Lake in Nanjing was closely related to the applictaion of CuSO4.
Picture with Professor Zhou
< What we got through our institution visit ?>
Via this fruitful communication with Jiangsu University, we preliminarily touched the application method of our product --- sophorolipid and insisted our goal that to keep developing different strains to manufacture different ratios of sophorolipid.
6. Analysis of Product Quality ------ Degradation Effect on Cyanobacteria in factory
< Where we chose to test our product in the future?>
We turned to an Algal-water separation plant near Taihu Lake for help which was built to enrich cyanobacteria for next burning method. If we can use our product in an plant like that, it will be much more cheaper and eco-friendly compared with current method because burning factories are built far away from the lake according to the law and the transportation cost is very high.
Exploration of application feasibility in the Algal-water separation plant
< What we got through our interaction with Algal-water separation plant ?>
In this part, we decided to cooperate with the Algal-water separation plant to further apply our product and we knew that our product could really be used to solve the cyanobacteria problem.
7. Exploration in Industrial Production ------ Enterprises Visit
< Where we chose to do research on industrial production?>
EVONIK, a world leading special chemical enterprise and supplier for L'Oreal and other daily chemical groups,have the ability to produce sophorolipid and had done some researches on it before. It’s also the first company in the world to use biotechnology to mass-produce high-quality surfactants and the first household cleaner containing Evonik's biosurfactant is already available in supermarkets. The product contains sophorolipids, which are naturally produced by Starmerella bombicola. Thus, we decided to visit EVONIK, an enterprise having experience to use the same microorganism to produce same product like our team.
Enterprise visit to EVONIK
< Can we prove the safety of sophorolipid application after industrial production?>
According to the introduction by the company manager, sophorolipid has been used in some cleaning products including Ove Cleaner and oral rinses. The manager said that sophorolipid was a biosurfactant with better a surfactivity and an eco-friendly and human-harmless product.
Discussion about sophorolipid-related products
< Explanation on a better efficiency by combining two types of sophorolipids>
Lactone sophorolipids actually have a better bacteriastatic activity based on their research, but it can not be dissolved in water perfectly before adding acid type. As a result, they also thought a specific kind of combined sophorolipid would better economical result after industrial production .
< How can we achieve industrial production in the future?>
Sophorolipid has not been put on records in China which means that there are no factory can produce sophorolipid in theory. The registration fee for sophorolipid will be over one million and it will be hard for private enterprise to register. Thus, they advised us to cooperate with the government and asked for there financial efforts because solving environmental problems are their duty.
< What we got through our enterprise visit ?>
We can make sure that our product is safe and an industrial production will be meaningful. Besides, we decided to ask for financial efforts from the government.
8. Feedback from the Public ------ Future Work
< Why we need a feedback from the public?>
Our goal is to degrade cyanobacteria in Taihu Lake which is closely related to their daily drinking water and apply sophorolipid in many daily areas, so they have to support our research project and be willing to accept our product in the future . Thus, we interviewed many people both face to face and online to know whether they can understand us.
< What data we got from the feedback?>
Based on our interviews of the local citizens, the public is more inclined to the biological method among the three cyanobacteria treatment methods (physical method, chemical method, biological method), and thinks that the biological method is more trustworthy, and most people (80%+) are also willing to drink the water processed by the biological method. However,the majority of them don’t know enough about biological method though they support the biological one. Therefore, it is necessary to narrow the gap between the lab research and public perception .
Analysis of local people’s attitudes
So, that's WHY we attach importance to our Science Communication project~