Sustainable Development Goals


In today's world, it's important for projects in various fields like biology and marketing to integrate sustainable development goals into their strategies. This applies even to projects in synthetic biology, which are closely connected to areas like agriculture and medicine, emphasizing the importance of following this principle.

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals have garnered significant attention in modern education circles, captivating both educators and students worldwide. As international students hailing from different countries, our team was already well-acquainted with these goals and aimed to contribute to establishing a genuinely sustainable future for the global population.

Throughout an extended period of several months, our team remained steadfast in integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the progression of our project. Deliberately, we pinpointed and focused on three distinct objectives - Goal 4: Quality Education, Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, and Goal 14: Life Below Water. Our selection of these goals was driven by the pressing issue of eutrophication prevalent in South Korea. We firmly believe that Goals #4, #6, and #14 are most closely aligned with the challenges posed by eutrophication and directly correspond to the objectives our biosensor aims to address.

Clean Water and Sanitation

Billions of people worldwide continue to lack access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and proper hygiene. According to the UN’s Goal 6 overview, in 2022, approximately 2.2 billion individuals did not have access to adequately managed drinking water, while an additional 3.5 billion people lacked appropriately managed sanitation facilities. Moreover, 2.2 billion individuals did not possess basic hand-washing amenities. This dilemma is further compounded by the fact that since 1970, around 81% of species reliant on inland wetlands have experienced a decline in population. In an overarching context, about 2.4 billion people reside in countries facing significant water scarcity challenges. In response to these pressing issues, the United Nations has established Goal 6 to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation services for all.

To better understand how our synthetic biology-based biosensor, which we have named Monitro, could relate to this goal, Seoul-Korea visited the Nakdong River, where eutrophication has been a critical issue for several years. Nakdong River has seen high levels of toxic blue-green algae and microcystins. As water in the Nakdong River is carried away into the homes and fields of Busan and Daegu, which are the second and fourth largest cities in Korea, the effects of eutrophication on domestic water supplies and agriculture are devastating. There has been evidence that levels of microcystins were detected in the water source near Nakdong River, and rice containing microcystin was produced from downstream regions of the river. The detection of microcystins in the river highlights the risks posed by eutrophication to people. For instance, microcystin levels in rice from the Nakdong River exceeded the reproductive toxicity guideline set by the French Agency for Food, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) by up to five times. Assuming that our citizens have been consuming food ingredients containing these detected microcystins from the previous year, it can be inferred that they are consistently exposed to a daily diet that greatly surpasses the ANSES guideline by several multiples. This emphasizes the urgency of the situation in Korea.

Eutrophication and its far-reaching consequences directly contradict the targets outlined in goal 6. Specifically, it undermines the efforts to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all and to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all. The issue may not only stall but also reverse the progress made towards these targets. The solution our team came up with is developing a biosensor Monitro. The problem we are tackling revolves around the scarcity of affordable water ion sensors, which presents a significant technological hurdle. In response, we have devised a plan to create a sensor using Arduino technology. This sensor operates by translating variations in physical properties into electrical signals, though discerning differences among various ions proves to be a complex task. To overcome this challenge, we have adopted a unique approach by integrating a biosensor containing microorganisms. We chose this method due to the vast diversity of living organisms globally, each possessing the capability to detect different types of ions. However, even after these microorganisms detect ions, an intermediary mechanism is required to convert this information into electrical signals comprehensible to Arduino. The problem our team is tackling revolves around affordable dissolved ion sensors. Current ion sensors are both inaccessible and expensive, both being problems indicative of the advanced technology that goes into such sensors. In response, we have devised a plan to create a sensor using Arduino technology. This sensor operates by translating variations in physical properties into electrical signals, though discerning differences among various ions proves to be a complex task. One issue with dissolved ion sensors is that they make use of physical methods that can be ion-specific. To overcome this challenge, we have adopted a unique approach by integrating a biosensor containing microorganisms. A living organism, on the other hand, can handle several ions. They have to; their survival depends on their ability to respond to changes in their surrounding environments. However, even after these microorganisms detect ions, an intermediary mechanism is required to convert this information into electrical signals comprehensible to Arduino. To bridge this gap, we have incorporated a color-changing mechanism that corresponds to ion concentration. A color sensor is employed to detect these color shifts, allowing us to collect the necessary data. Essentially, these color changes serve as a signal system similar to a traffic light.

Quality Education

We have dedicated ourselves to helping bridge the gap for more marginalized student communities in Korea, specifically students who were not able to attend school. As a part of this endeavor, we are extending an opportunity to biology enthusiasts who lack access to traditional laboratories, enabling them to engage with the realm of synthetic biology. By inviting these students, firstly into an online meeting where we got acquainted and formed close bonds, and then into an offline setting to conduct labs related to synthetic biology formally, we were able to give these students not only an educational opportunity but also a chance to create and gain new relationships and mentors. In our online camp, our members guided the students through the lab simulations step by step ensuring that no one was left behind and everyone had an enriching experience. To elaborate, we selected two virtual labs among diverse options. One was the lab that was almost identical with the offline lab and the second lab was at a more basic level that could help the participants understand the fundamental knowledge about synthetic biology. Since all of them were in English, the mentors, including myself, translated each step of the two virtual labs into Korean. Then we met the participants through Zoom, guiding them step by step while proceeding with the lab via the shared screen. We made sure that no one fell behind by having several breaks between the steps so that the participants who couldn’t finish their work could ask us questions. After completing the lab, the participants shared their thoughts about the virtual lab system. They concluded that even though the virtual lab still had certain limitations, the system itself was a helpful tool that enhanced the student’s learning experience. For example, one participant commented that she liked how she could repeat the lab multiple times. Because of this feature, she could gain a more thorough understanding of each step of the lab. This experience showed me that online tools such as PraxiLab can serve as a helpful resource that can enrich the learning opportunities of adolescents who do not have access to physical laboratories. By teaching more Korean students how to engage with online learning tools, we could become a step closer to our SDG goal of quality education for all.

Then, in our in-person lab, they were able to test their skills acquired from our first session and collaborate with one another as a team to create an experiment. The offline lab was carried out for two days. For day 1, we planned to do molecular biology theory, laboratory safety training, plasmid extraction, and cloning. Following along, day 2 was focused on wet labs such as the PCR (polymerase chain reaction), gel electrophoresis, DNA extraction, and summary of research results. The lesson plan was constructively structured with labs to understand the fundamental concept of DNA modification, the core of synthetic biology.
As the hybrid camp was signed up by people who were interested in synthetic biology, the participants were delighted to familiarize themselves with pipettes, incubators, spectrophotometers, and many other laboratory equipment. The labs were conducted in a mentor-mentee system with each of the participants paired with one of our IGEM members to figure out the lab processes. The mentor-mentee system allowed intimate bonds to form by the end of the two full-day camps. It was a meaningful experience to talk with students of a similar age in different learning environments yet still with the same interest, biology.
Furthermore, our team also realized that there may be some students who are not attending school who might not have access to the internet. Therefore, we decided to create a basic science experiment kit. Since the online/offline camp in South Korea carried out a DNA extraction lab, we decided to make a Broccoli DNA extraction kit. We are shipping our kit to a refugee learning center located in Indonesia. Providing Afghan refugee students currently living in Indonesia with opportunities to learn synthetic biology is the ultimate goal of this project. Through these multiple projects, our team hoped to be a step closer to providing quality education for students without access or opportunities within their given environment.

Life Below Water

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 underscores the importance of conserving and sustainably using the world's oceans, seas, and marine resources. One of the major threats to this objective is nitrate pollution, which primarily originates from human activities such as agricultural runoff, sewage discharge, and industrial pollution.
Nitrate pollution accelerates eutrophication, a process where water becomes excessively rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. High concentration of such nutrients leads to rapid algal blooms. Algal blooms resulting from eutrophication can lead to large-scale fish kills. In China's third-largest freshwater lake, Lake Taihu, harmful algal blooms have repeatedly caused massive fish kills and impacted the drinking water source for millions of people. As algae die and decay, they consume vast amounts of oxygen, often creating "dead zones." These zones are a direct result of eutrophication and cover more than 245,000 square kilometers, which is roughly the size of the United Kingdom. In these zones, oxygen levels are too low to support most marine life, resulting in a widespread decline in the population of fish and other aquatic species. As of data leading up to 2021, there were over 500 hypoxic (low oxygen) zones around the world. For example, the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico stems from eutrophication due to runoff with excessive nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed. This dead zone in Mexico affects the fishing industry by reducing the number of fish and shrimp in the Gulf, also impacting the livelihoods of those dependent on the seafood industry. In addition, the lack of oxygen disrupts the food chain. It can lead to reduced populations of species and reduced biodiversity in the affected areas.
Beyond creating dead zones, nitrate pollution threatens biodiversity by damaging vital ecosystems like coral reefs. Eutrophication exacerbates the bleaching of coral reefs by enhancing the susceptibility of corals to temperature-induced bleaching. Worldwide, about 20% of coral reefs have been destroyed, and another 20% degraded, with pollution, including nutrient pollution, being a contributing factor. Thus, mitigating nitrate pollution becomes significant for achieving several targets set by SDG 14. Solutions range from improving agricultural practices to better wastewater treatment, emphasizing the need for global collaboration to protect our marine environments. The solution that team Seoul-Korea came up with is creating an Arduino-base biosensor, Monitro, to easily detect the presence of nitrogen and phosphates. By applying Monitro in real-life situations, team Seoul-Korea hopes to be a step closer to helping solve the endless eutrophication problem and save our lives below water.


In conclusion, team Seoul-Korea, a group of high schoolers from around the world has come together with professionals to make an impact in our world and help create a solution to the global problem, of eutrophication.

Works Cited

  • Mississippi River Delta. Accessed 30 Sept. 2023.
  • United Nations. Accessed 30 Sept. 2023.
  • 환경운동연합. Accessed 30 Sept. 2023.