Igem 2009 UVA (university of amsterdam)


One of the biggest problems nowadays of food supplies in developing countries, is not so much the quantity of the food, but more importantly, the poor nutritional value and overall quality of the food. Often, the food merely exists of simple grains that lack important vitamins such as vitamin A and B12. Furthermore, in developing countries, the foodstuffs and water that are used to prepare food are often contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms.

Our goal is to overcome these problems with food in developing countries, by creating an organism or mix of organisms that can easily ferment several common crops, such as rice and soy, enrich it in nutrients, vitamins in particular, and are able to produce anti-microbial components such as nisin and reuterin.

As starting organisms we have chosen two types of lactic acid bacteria: Lactobacillus reuteri, because it is known to produce vitamin B12 and reuterin, and Lactococcus lactis, because it is easy to use for cloning purposes and it produces nisin. In these organisms we want to introduce vectors carrying genes for the production of vitamin A and genes for the production of artemisinin, a potential anti-malaria drug. In this way, we aim to proof that it is possible to use synthetic biology to enhance the nutritionally poor foods of starving third world populations, as well as to prevent disease within these populations, by modifying microorganisms which are already used in traditional local fermentations.

Our project will focus on two main questions:

    1. Is it possible to alter food fermenting microorganisms in such a way that the end product is enriched in nutritionally, and antimicrobially relevant substances? (synthetic biology)
    2. Is the end product safe, useful and desirable for poor people? Should we accept genetic modification as a practical tool for making our lives easier, healthier and more pleasurable, or are there overruling negative aspects, which should make us hesitate to do so. And if there are, is it acceptable to practice genetic modification in poor countries under the guise of philanthropy? (ethics)
Our Wiki is still under construction. More information will be following soon...a

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