Team iGEM UUlm

We are a project team of Ulm University and devote ourselves to the biological degradation of plastic waste in the context of the iGEM competition.
The acronym iGEM stands for "international genetically engineered machine" and is the largest international competition of synthetic biosciences for students. It takes place in Boston since the year 2003 and teams from all over the World participate. The general aim is to genetically manipulate an organism so that it becomes useful for humanity.


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Biodegradation of Polystyrene on the basis of Genetically Modified Intestinal Bacteria of Tenebrio molitor larvae

Polystyrene is one of the most abundant plastics on earth[1] and often ends up in large quantities in our environment. Sustainability is our central credo and we present a new approach of biodegrading polystyrene with the help of genetically modified bacteria introduced into the intestines of mealworms (Tenebrio molitor larvae[2]). Previously, it has been shown that these larvae can use polystyrene foam as sole carbon source[3],[4] , thus it is a biodegradable matter. We designed a recombinant Escherichia coli strain capable of converting acetyl-CoA to acetone[5]. The genetic modifications intend to integrate a plasmid with some genes of the ABE fermentation. We want to have acetone produced by bacteria in the intestines of the larvae. Here, it is supposed to help breaking down the plastic because acetone can dissolve polystyrene. Acetone intercalates in between the polymer chains and increases the surface area that can be attacked by the bacteria.

  • [1] Geyer et al. Science Advances 2017, 3, 7, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782
  • [2] Robinson W.H. 2005, Urban Insects and Arachnids, Cambridge University Press
  • [3] Yang et al. 2015, Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 20, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b02661
  • [4] Yang et al. 2017, Chemosphere 191, 979-989, DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.10.117
  • [5] Hoffmeister et al. 2016, Metabolic engineering 36, 37-47