iGEM Athens 2020 engineers microorganisms to create a structurally coloured material aiming to replace conventional dyes. Let’s meet the team…
We are 12 undergraduate students from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the National Technical University of Athens and the Agricultural University of Athens. Spyros, George and Kally study at the Department of Biology, Orsalia at Medicine School, Silia, Klea, Ilias, Dimos and Eleftheria at the Chemical Engineering School, Natalia at the Electrical and Computer Engineering School, Marianna and Andreas at the Biotechnology Department. With a lot of passion and excitement, we join our forces for the creation of the third team in a row from Athens that will participate in the iGEM Competition! Although each one of us work on specific aspects of the research work necessary for our project, such as modeling and conducting laboratory experiments, we operate as members of an interdisciplinary team where we are constantly interacting with each other and moving as one towards the goal of gaining knowledge in areas we meet for the first time.
We draw inspiration from nature which, through the evolution of structural colour, provides us with the alternative of replacing conventional dyes.
The title of our project is “An engineered biofilm for the production of a new, structurally coloured material”. In nature, colours can come in two forms, either by chemical pigments, or due to the physical structure of surfaces. Certain bacterial strains, such as Flavobacterium johnsoniae, exhibit structural colours when grown on solid media, or in naturally occurring biofilms. This phenomenon is largely caused by a tight, single-layered cellular arrangement in the micron scale. In our project we aim to engineer Flavobacterium johnsoniae to produce cellulose, in order to create a structurally coloured material. In parallel, we want to transfer these properties to an engineered Escherichia coli strain. A novel stochastic model that estimates cell interactions and processes will be created, along with a simulation predicting the colour of a known structure. This in silico toolbox will be used to guide the wet lab experiments and give us an insight into the mechanisms involved. The biofilm will be engineered in vivo by modulating cellular adhesion and communication. In a second step, we will manipulate the cells to excrete an extracellular matrix that retains the structural colour, to be used as a novel material.
Our inspiration & applications
One of the biggest global problems that needs humanity’s attention is climate change. Its consequences are visible, and its causes are numerous. Part of this problem is pollution, caused by the mass use of dyes in products, facilities, and supplies. These dyes are neither environmentally friendly nor beneficial to human health. At this point, we draw inspiration from nature which, through the evolution of structural colour, provides us with the alternative of replacing conventional dyes. Structural colour can be found in a variety of organisms and bacterial strains and has a wide range of useful properties such as thermal insulation, hydrophobicity, and iridescence. Having a clear goal, plenty of inspiration and the tools of SynBio, we aim to engineer a sustainable biological material with structural colour properties, which can be a substitute for a significant part of chemical dyes, leading to the reduction of their harmful properties.
The successful creation of this material is expected to be used in a variety of applications such us coating surfaces on cars, buildings and numerous technology products. Due to the uniqueness of their structure it can also be used for the authentication of credit cards and banknotes, but also as a new tool for BioArt. These applications are also reinforced by other advantageous properties of the material, such as its biodegradation, its sustainable production, and the absence of unwanted by-products during the formation process.
Follow the team on their journey