Did you know that over 11 million people need medical care due to severe burns every year? We propose an innovative solution, easy to apply and that can be produced in large scale: a super aid for the treatment of burn victims. We are raising money to present our project – AlgAranha – at iGEM, an important international synthetic biology competition, in Boston (United States).
We are a multidisciplinary team from São Paulo, Brazil, with students of architecture, biology, biomedical sciences, social sciences and more, from the universities USP, UNESP and UNIFESP. The team originated from the Synthetic Biology Club (SynBio Brasil), which is an independent club that is actively engaged in promoting synthetic biology education, leading to a powerful impact on scientific awareness in Brazil. Since 2012, different members of the club have organized themselves to take part in iGEM competition achieving bronze, silver and gold medals.
iGEM, which stands for “international Genetically Engineered Machine”, is a foundation dedicated to the development of high-level research in Synthetic Biology with an open and integrative approach. It organizes a competition that takes place annually in Boston, USA, and stimulates interdisciplinary groups to problem solving through genetically modified organisms. The blending of open approaches and such interdisciplinary groups contributes to the development of the research per se, ultimately impacting its quality and depth for the better (Molino et al., 2016).
This year, we named our project AlgAranha, which is a combination of the Portuguese words for algae and spider. It is based on the heterologous expression of spider silk protein in the microalgae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The project started when we looked at the problem of growing antibiotic resistance and started to think in ways to tackle it. We specially focused on injury related infections, for example in the case of burn victims. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 265.000 deaths occur due to fire accidents per year, many of which happen in developing countries such as Brazil.
We devised the creation of an antibiotic patch, combining the physical properties of spider silk with antibiotic enzymes (enzybiotics). We intend to express both the spider silk and chimeric enzybiotic proteins with spider silk motifs in Chlamydomonas and polymerize then together to form the product of interest. We hope to accomplish, besides the final goal of patch development, improvement of Chlamydomonas as a synbio chassis and analyze its capability of producing enzybiotics and monomers of spider silk.
Moreover, the team is involved with open hardware development and promotion and synthetic biology popularization, helping to promote the synthetic biology culture in Brazil, raising awareness and engaging the public.
But why spider silk?
Spider silk is known mainly for its tensile strength and fracture resistance, but also exhibits elasticity, adhesion, biocompatibility and low degradation. Its strength can be compared to Kevlar synthetic polymer, which is composed of aramid and is used in for manufacturing body armor. The polymer constituting the spider silk bears interesting properties for various applications, including immobilization of molecules such as proteins (Molino et al., 2016).
And why produce spider web in a microalgae?
Microalgae are microscopic algae that grow in fresh or salt water, being extremely important organisms for life on Earth once they produce almost half of all the atmospheric oxygen as they capture from the atmosphere one of the greenhouse effect gases, carbon dioxide (CO2). Our chosen microalgae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, is already used in bioproducts production and presents compatible characteristics with our bioproduct. Moreover, microalgae perform photosynthesis, in other words, they use sunlight, CO2 and water to produce energy and survive, which makes cultivation cheap, easy and ecofriendly.
Why are we crowdfunding?
We are participating in the iGEM competition 2016 as the USP_UNIFESP-Brazil team. The German pharmaceutical company Merck sponsored our team registration fee. Our universities are providing us equipments and materials. We will use raised money to pay the individual fees to attend the Giant Jamboree (final presentation event), travel to Boston and accommodation costs. For each student we need to raise around US$ 2,600.
iGEM is an excelent opportunity to seek knowledge and to collaborate with students and researchers from all over the world and bring visibility to Brazilian science.
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For more information about our work, visit our websites:
For detailed information about our project, have a look at our publication at Research Ideas and Outcomes:
Molino J, Lubiana Alves T, Ferreira-Camargo L, Croce M, Tanaka A, Buson F, Ribeiro P, Campos-Salazar A, Antonio E, Maizel A, Siratuti V, Costa C, Wlodarczyk S, de Souza Lima R, Mello F, Mayfield S, Carvalho J (2016) Chimeric spider silk production in microalgae: a modular bionanomaterial. Research Ideas and Outcomes 2: e9342. doi: 10.3897/rio.2.e9342
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