Over 23.5 million Americans face food insecurity or have limited access to affordable and fresh produce, leading to nutrient deficiency. Aquaponics is a pragmatic solution to address food insecurity, but maintenance and costs are barriers to implementation. Lambert iGEM’s AgroSENSE utilizes modular hardware, nutrient biosensors, and iOS/Android compatible software to monitor and analyze nutrient levels and environmental conditions to optimize plant growth. Our arduino sensors measure environmental conditions while biosensors are utilized to monitor phosphate and nitrate nutrient balance. Lambert iGEM characterized BioBricks based on E. coli’s native Pho and Nar signaling pathways. The expression of GFP in the presence of these nutrients is analyzed by Fluoro-Q, our improved frugal fluorometer. The data will be quantified by our Agro-Q mobile app, enabling end-users to make informed decisions regarding aquaponics systems. With an emphasis on integration of educational curriculum, AgroSENSE serves as a model for future agricultural biotechnology innovations.
ADAPTING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
The COVID-19 pandemic posed many challenges to life for millions of people worldwide, but for iGEM teams, the rolling quarantines have promoted particular difficulties. On full quarantine status, Lambert High School was closed from March 13, 2020 through August 13, 2020. The team used this time to contact experts, stakeholders, and professional mentors through video conferencing to develop the project's human practices. The team's hardware and software committees were able to continue designing and prototyping in their respective homes; however, wetlab was restricted. The bulk of wetlab committee work included extensive research and experimental design planning. The whole Lambert iGEM team met virtually biweekly to debrief while committees met daily or weekly via video conference calls to discuss the project. These meetings provided Lambert iGEM much needed virtual face-to-face time to socialize and reconnect, alleviating the isolating challenges of living through quarantine.
When the majority Lambert iGEM returned to school on August 13, many members were participating from home due to concerns from the ongoing pandemic. Face-to-face and virtual students continued to work together to advance AgroSense. Since before and after school activities were still prohibited, all labwork had to be conducted during school hours, amounting to approximately 8 hours per week. Through Integrated DNA Technologies' generous sponsorship, Lambert iGEM wetlab committees were able to begin cloning workflows mid-August. There were additional challenges with access to specialized lab equipment, including a plate reader, as Georgia Institute of Technology limited campus access until early October.
As of October 27, 2020 (Wiki Freeze/ GitHub Freeze/ Parts Registry Pages Freeze), Lambert High School has been placed under quarantine once again due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. The Lambert iGEM Team recognizes all those affected by the pandemic, which reinvigorated our commitment to the sustainable development goals that support societal changes. Our hope is that the power of science and synthetic biology can aid in solving this and other global health crises.
Best UN Sustainability Goals
Best Integrated Human Practices