You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.


Inspiration and Project Design Origin

Currently, as the largest developing country in the world, China is striving to develop its industries and improve the living standards while also focusing on the construction of ecological civilization. Our philosophy is that "Clear waters and green mountains are mountains of gold and silver." However, in reality, there are still some environmental pollution incidents that disrupt this harmony, such as heavy metal pollution caused by mining, landfilling, and incineration, which pose risks to soil and water resources and raise public concerns.

From the start of the project in May until now, we have a total of 8 team members in different stages of the project, according to the actual needs of the project, contacted 14 environmental monitoring and disposal of heavy metal-related pollution related organizations and enterprises, and successfully obtained the opportunity to visit 8 organizations, travel, interview 11 times, on the project to select the topic, to understand the real needs of the potential users, the actual application of the heavy metal detection concentration of the reference standard, the cadmium-related heavy metal We have collected valuable opinions on the selection of project topics, understanding of the real needs of potential users, reference standards for heavy metal detection concentration in practical applications, safe disposal of cadmium-related heavy metals, the generation and circulation of cadmium-related heavy metal pollutants in the Shanghai area, and the related biosafety that needs to be considered for the application of cadmium-responsive luminescent plants, etc. Based on these suggestions and information, we will make dynamic improvements and adjustments to the project program.

These outings conveyed us a great deal of spiritual strength, and we continue to feel the novelty, appreciation and anticipation of users for our use of synthetic biotechnology to solve the problem of environmental cadmium pollution monitoring. We will try to continue our efforts and hope to produce products or programs that can really help them solve their problems.

At the end of May, our team proposed to focus on monitoring heavy metal pollution in the environment as the direction of our project.

1. In June, we had three exchanges and learning sessions with teachers from the Shenzhen Environmental Monitoring Center to understand the main technical methods and limitations of current environmental monitoring. This helped us clarify what specific problems we should solve and what real social value we can generate.
(3rd, 15th, and 19th of June)

Outbound team member: Jian Xinye

Visited organization and contact person: Ms. Yu Xinfan, Shenzhen Environmental Monitoring Center, After our team decided to focus on environmental monitoring as our project direction, we went to the Shenzhen Environmental Monitoring Center to communicate with Ms. Yu Xinfan, a staff member at the monitoring station.We learned about the work content and common technical methods of environmental monitoring, and we found out that while the monitoring of air and water pollution is well-established and can achieve real-time and dynamic monitoring, the monitoring of soil pollution is challenging due to the high dependence on equipment and specialized technicians.

It can only be done through periodic sampling, making it difficult to achieve convenient and real-time monitoring. Mr. Yu suggested that if we could use luminescent plants to monitor heavy metals in soil, it would be of great significance for soil monitoring. He also suggested that we could combine heavy metal monitoring with urban greening to make environmental monitoring a visible and popular landscape, attracting more public attention and involvement in environmental monitoring. Ms. Yu also informed us that there are many environmental protection and pollution control units in Shanghai that are open to the public, and she suggested that we conduct further research in Shanghai.

2. On July 17th, Zhang Hongxi, Gu Yuhan, Qiao Qiao, and others visited Shanghai Wenxin Technology Co., Ltd. to understand the potential sources of heavy metal pollution in the city, the standards for heavy metal detection, the market attitude and demand for using luminescent plants to monitor soil heavy metals.

During the discussion, the company's staff introduced to us that the main sources of heavy metal pollution in Shanghai are electronic products, livestock manure, and sludge composting. The company mainly handles wet garbage, such as kitchen waste, in the entire Minhang District. Their output is oil and plant fertilizers, which have less heavy metal pollution. Currently, there are no strict requirements for heavy metal detection of their products by higher-level authorities. While some customers requests heavy metal testing, the company has to outsource the products to third-party testing companies, which incurs high costs and time-consuming procedures. They will not actively take tests due to the high costs involved.

Our team members introduced our project to the company's staff, informing them that we are participating in the iGEM competition, applying synthetic biology technology to use microorganisms as vectors, and luminescent plants will act as biosensors to detect heavy metals in soil. We fully explained the technical route of the project, current progress, and the prototype of the product. While we asked them for their opinions and suggestions regarding our product, the company's staff expressed an open attitude towards our product and stated that, once our product is mature, they would be willing to plant our luminescent plants in their experimental fields, which gave our team members great confidence. They had also taken us to visit their experimental fields, and told us, where we can choose to plant our product.

The company's main considerations are as follows: Firstly, using luminescent plants for heavy metal monitoring in the experimental field can serve as a dynamic monitoring tool for heavy metal content in fertilizers. Once pollution occurs, it can be detected proactively, which is superior to the current method of outsourcing third-party testing. Secondly, even if long-term monitoring does not reveal any pollution, they would still accept this low-cost monitoring method, because proactive monitoring can also demonstrate their awareness of quality, safety, and responsibility as a company.

3. On July 28th, Qiao Qiao, Wang Chenyue, Yu Youyou, Jian Yuhuan, and Li Ao visited Shanghai Xinjinqiao Construction Development Co., Ltd.

Our team is lack of experience in safety protection for upcoming experiments related to heavy metal cadmium treatment.So, the purpose of the visit was to ensure the safety of personnel, the environment, and ecological security during the experiment. After researching local companies in Shanghai, we learned that Shanghai Xinjinqiao Company specializes in the treatment and recycling of solid waste, focusing on the "integration" of industrial waste treatment. The process includes waste collection, transportation, classification (categorized as hazardous and non-hazardous materials), storage (only non-hazardous waste is stored), and the recycling of treated waste. We quickly established contact with the company and scheduled a visit with several members of our experimental team to Shanghai Xinjinqiao Construction Development Co., Ltd.

We had a discussion with several staff members of the company, addressing the following questions:
1) What safety level should the heavy metal treatment laboratory meet?
2) What kind of experimental equipment and conditions are required for conducting heavy metal-related operations?
3) How can the safety of experimental personnel be protected during heavy metal-related experiments? Please provide a list of protective measures.
4) Should the dispersion of cadmium or other heavy metals in the form of aerosols be considered? How should it be disposed of?
5) Is it possible to accept cadmium-containing heavy metal soil or plants? What disposal recommendations and acceptance plans do you have?
6) Are you willing to plant cadmium-responsive plants in the testing area? Are there any specific detection indicators or concentration standards for using luminescent plants to detect cadmium?

Our team introduced our project to the company's staff, informing them about our idea of using luminescent plants as biosensors to monitor heavy metal pollution in soil. We explained the technical route of the project, the current progress, and the prototype of the product. We also discussed the upcoming challenges of heavy metal disposal and safety issues with Mr. Yan, the head of the company's research and development department.Mr. Yan expressed appreciation for our experimental plan. He believed that conducting simulated experiments on cadmium-contaminated scenarios in natural environments can provide better understanding of the adaptability and response of plants to cadmium-contaminated environments. This research can serve as a reference for our practical application and management in the future. While this type of research involves handling toxic chemicals, Mr. Yan emphasized that as long as proper protective measures are taken, beneficial experimental results can be obtained, which will contribute to long-term monitoring, prevention, and management of heavy metal pollution, specifically cadmium contamination.

Additionally, Mr. Yan reminded us that although cadmium-accumulating plants contain a large amount of cadmium ions, CdCl2 itself is stable and does not cause hazards such as explosions. However, if cadmium-accumulating plants are exposed to external factors such as heating, the combustion of organic matter in the plants (such as dried plant tissue) may lead to the dispersion of cadmium compounds. Therefore, appropriate safety measures should be taken in the handling or disposal of cadmium-accumulating plants, following relevant safety operating procedures to prevent accidents. Mr. Yan emphasized the need for specialized safety management systems and protective measures in the laboratory when conducting experiments with chemicals like CdCl2.
These measures include:
1) Storage in dedicated and sealed containers with designated personnel responsible for storage, and recording of usage.
2) Usage within a biosafety cabinet.
3) Strict adherence to personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, and lab coats, to protect experimenters.
4) Proper sealing and disposal of waste, to be handled by waste management companies. Lastly, both representatives of the company expressed an open attitude towards our proposal of using plants as biosensors to monitor soil cadmium pollution. They believed that such a product was of great application prospects. After the initial experiments are completed, if trial planting is needed, we can contact them to plant our luminescent plants in their experimental fields.

4. On August 10th, Wang Chenyue and Li Junhan visited the Jinshan District Environmental Monitoring Station and Green Zou Technology to understand the disposal methods of cadmium-containing waste and assess whether the disposal of heavy metal waste in the city is adequately safe and whether it could potentially become a new source of heavy metal pollution. Additionally, they aimed to identify companies engaged in the disposal of heavy metal pollutants and determine if there is a demand for using luminescent plants to monitor heavy metal pollution.

1) Visited Jinshan District Environmental Monitoring Station, contact person: Mr. Liu, a staff member at the environmental monitoring station.Mr. Liu introduced us to the work content and monitoring methods of environmental monitoring in Jinshan District.We introduced our project to them, and when they learned that we were using plants to monitor heavy metals in soil and already had some preliminary feasible experimental results, they were very excited. They marveled at the cutting-edge nature of synthetic biology technology and appreciated our creativity, believing that if such plants could be developed, it would greatly complement and assist their work. They also provided us with information on the distribution of chemical and waste treatment companies in Jinshan District, offering two potential companies that may be involved in heavy metal disposal and emissions: Green Zou Technology and Renewable Energy Co., Ltd. for further visits.

2) Visited Green Zou Technology to discuss with Mr. Xu, the production manager. The company specializes in the recycling and disposal of solid waste and is committed to the "integration" of industrial waste treatment. The process includes waste collection, transportation, classification (divided into hazardous and non-hazardous substances), storage (only non-hazardous waste is stored), and the recycling of treated waste. We explained our project to Mr. Xu and inquired about his attitude and views on using luminescent plants to monitor heavy metal pollution. He expressed a strong need for such a product and believed that it had great application prospects. Furthermore, the company confirmed that they would be able to accept our cadmium-containing waste for recycling and would provide dedicated vehicles for collection and transportation.

3) Visited Renewable Energy Co., Ltd. and learned that the company focuses on the treatment of municipal solid waste, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, hazardous medical waste disposal, environmental restoration, and municipal sludge disposal. The company has functional departments including the Ecological Division, Environmental Division, and Hazardous Waste Division. They have multiple waste treatment plants, and it is highly likely that they will be potential customers for our product. We plan to have in-depth discussions with the company's environmental protection-related personnel after the initial experiments are completed to promote our product.

9.27 Zhang Ma-Xi, BGI Genome Office 1, Yantian, Shenzhen, China, visited Ms. Weili Zhou, the head of BGI Bioethics Committee, and Ms. Zhaozheng Guo, the former director of BGI Bioethics Committee, to discuss the biosafety issues of our cadmium-responsive luminescent plants for long-term application. Ms. Weili Zhou, as the head of BGI Bioethics Committee, is in charge of plant and synthetic biology. Our team member, Zhang Ma-Xi, introduced Ms. Zhou to the iGEM competition and our project, as well as the biosafety-related issues we wanted to discuss with her during our previous visit.

Ms. Zhou introduced to us the current ethical review team structure, the types of projects reviewed and the review process of the plant and synthetic biology direction at BGI, and explained to us the points to note in the review process of these types of projects. It was also pointed out that BGI's current projects, like the ones we are executing at this stage, are limited to be carried out in the laboratory and do not involve trial planting or promotion outside the laboratory, so there is no safety problem with the experimental work that has occurred at this stage or will occur in the short term as long as we make sure that it is carried out in accordance with the laboratory management specifications and safe experimental requirements given by Mr. Xia Keke's team.

Ms. Zhou also suggested that we can organize and submit the project background and program design, experimental materials and other related information in advance for other subsequent projects, and they are willing to help with the detailed review of all aspects, and if they meet the conditions, they will give the approval to pass the review; if they do not meet the conditions, they will give suggestions for rectification.

At the same time, Ms. Zhou mentioned that to conduct trial planting tests on the modified plants outside the laboratory, it is necessary to go through the strict approval of the National Biological Safety Department and the application of experimental procedures. She suggested that we should first fully understand the relevant regulations, strictly follow the requirements, conduct the application of experimental reporting before the test, and strictly follow the test requirements, step by step, and stage by stage, to the regulatory authorities to report our test process and test results.