Detection and Degradation of Perfluoroalkyl Substances through Bioengineering

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminate public ground and surface waters, posing serious threats to wildlife and human health. Despite the ubiquitous nature of these compounds, there are limited technologies available to both detect and degrade these chemicals. To address this urgent need, the US Air Force Academy iGEM team engineered a novel PFAS responsive promoter to act as an efficient bioreporter for rapid detection of PFAS. Concurrently, the team screened PFAS-laden soil samples and identified several microbes that survive in high concentrations of PFAS. Delftia acidovorans, one of the microbes identified, contains the genes for several dehalogenases with potential activity to break down PFAS compounds. Alternate vectors and organisms for dehalogenase expression are being explored to determine maximum efficiency at removing fluorine ions from the PFAS carbon-fluorine backbone. Collaboration with water treatment experts and military research labs provides a multi-faceted attack on the PFAS issue.

Background of PFAS

Team USAFA is working to detect and degrade two perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS. These compounds fall under the chemical classification PFAS (per and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), and are extremely stable in the environment due to their highly fluorinated alkyl tail. These two substances cause severe health effects and are found ubiquitously throughout the developed world.

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