iGEM Biodegradable Polystyrene Project

Read on to find out how you can help the environment and become a “citizen scientist”!

Do “Citizen Science” with iGEM 2012

The University of Leicester is entering into the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition for the first time this year with a team lead by a group of second year undergraduates. iGEM is a science competition aimed at giving students a chance to get real research experience by building a genetically modified cell that can do something useful. The team have come up with a project that is novel, ecofriendly and brings a chance for you to help out!

The Big Idea
Expanded polystyrene is an incredibly useful, strong and lightweight packing material, but it’s a recycling nightmare. Unlike biodegradable plastics, micro-organisms that can digest polystyrene are very rare in the environment and often work incredibly slowly.

The University of Leicester iGEM team aim to help rid the world of this major waste product by efficiently recycling the polystyrene using a genetically engineered machine (a modified bacterium).

How can I help?
Finding the elusive polystyrene eating micro-organisms is the first challenge of the project and this is where you can help!

The iGEM team are providing environmental sampling packs for you test out at home. The packs contain strips of polystyrene to be buried in the ground and left for a few weeks to allow bacteria to colonise the strips. The team will then try to culture the organisms discovered, some of which may be able to digest the polystyrene.

What’s in it for me?
You’ll be helping look after the planet by cleaning up the polluting impact of polystyrene. You will also be supporting Leicester students in gaining real research experience – who knows the next Nobel Science Prize winner could come from Leicester! Finally you could get your contribution recognised in a published research article – citizen scientists whose samples harbour polystyrene-eaters will be invited to be authors on the paper reporting the team’s findings.

How do I get started?
Head to the team’s blog pages to find out more and order your test kit! http://uoleicesterigem2012.blogspot.com/

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