We need phosphate to stay alive. It's what allows farmers to grow the amount of food needed for population estimated to be 9.7 billion by 2050. But phosphate is running out, and the massive amounts of phosphate that is being used in fertilizer is leaching into the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson River. Once there, it triggers the growth of algal blooms that produce dangerous toxins and decrease the oxygen present in ocean environment, resulting in dead zones where entire ecosystems have been wiped out.
Unfortunately, many land plants are unable to uptake and utilize mineral phosphate. Local organizations, like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, are working to create policies that limit the usage of fertilizer to prevent further runoff and damage to the Bay. However, these policies may not be enough, and they do not address the mineral phosphate pollution in our bays that isn’t going away.
Our team decided to engineer Rhizobium tropici CIAT 899 (lab strain), a soil bacteria known for its high tolerance of environmental stresses (high temperature, acidity, and salinity) and symbiosis with several legumes through root nodules. Our plan is to have a two pronged approach: to uptake more mineral phosphate, reducing its prescence in the environment, and to solubilize mineral phosphate, making it more available for plants to use and eliminating the need for excessive phosphate fertilizers. We are attempting to add new functions to our organism to help uptake and solubilize mineral phosphate by inserting the pstSCAB inorganic phosphate (Pi) transporter from E. coli to increase uptake and the PqqC+gcd pathway from A. radiobacter to secrete gluconic acid for solubilization. We envision a time when these engineered rhizobium can allow for phosphate reuse in a sustainable way.
We are RhizeUP, a high school iGEM team and collaboration between two community labs on the East Coast of the United States: the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) in Baltimore, Maryland, and Genspace in Brooklyn, New York City, NY. This year, we build on our work from the previous year by looking at another aspect of environmental contamination that affects both of the regions we call home, as well as many other communities.
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