Hello there, potential sponsor. We are the 2020 iGEM team from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati. This is the fundraising pitch for our 2020 iGEM project combating Antimicrobial Resistance titled Coli-Kaze. If this interests you at all, please consider reading on:
WHAT IS iGEM?
From their website: “iGEM’s main program is the iGEM Competition, an annual, worldwide synthetic biology event aimed at undergraduate university students, as well as high school and graduate students. The iGEM competition gives students the opportunity to push the boundaries of synthetic biology by tackling everyday issues facing the world. Multidisciplinary teams work together to design, build, test, and measure a system of their own design using interchangeable biological parts and standard molecular biology techniques. iGEM teams work inside and outside the lab, creating sophisticated projects that strive to create a positive contribution to their communities and the world. Every year nearly 6,000 people dedicate their summer to iGEM and then come together in the fall to present their work and compete at the annual Giant Jamboree.”
Visit the iGEM website here.
1st from left: Dr. Raju Mukherjee, 2nd from left: Prof. B.J Rao, 3rd from left : Prof. K.N. Ganesh, Director, IISER Tirupati
We are the 2020 iGEM team from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Tirupati. We are a group of 12 students under our PIs Prof. B.J Rao (Professor, Chair, Biology and Dean Faculty, IISER Tirupati) and Dr. Raju Mukherjee (Assistant Professor, Biology, IISER Tirupati). As our iGEM project is a multidisciplinary one, we have members from all the basic science backgrounds, i.e. Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics.
Visit the IISER Tirupati website here.
OUR PROJECT : COLI-KAZE
The larger threat lurking behind the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the hidden threat from antibiotic resistance. Studies have found that 1 in 7 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has acquired a dangerous secondary bacterial infection, and 50% of patients who have died had such infections. The challenge of antibiotic resistance could become an enormous force of additional sickness and death across our health system. The UN ad hoc IACG on Antimicrobial Resistance, that by the year 2050 AMR alone will cause 10 million deaths.
To fight these antibiotic-resistant superbugs, we desperately need new antibiotics. But developing new antibiotics takes time and can cost more than $1 billion. Hence, we must put alternative measures in place to combat AMR.
We plan to address the issue of AMR using synthetic biology. Our idea follows the simple motto of ‘prevention is better than cure’ to limit the excess efflux of antibiotics in the environment so that no more resistant and tolerant mutants are formed, by degrading the antibiotics before their release into the environment. Currently, our system of interest is animal excreta as it is one of the largest contributors to antibiotic pollution in India.
Since our project involves the release of synthetically engineered bacteria into the environment, we have a few safety concerns, mainly bacterial horizontal gene transfer i.e trade genes within and outside the species, thus spreading AMR. Therefore our bacteria is a double-edged sword. In our project, the novelty lies in preventing horizontal gene transfer.
In order to tackle this, we planned to engineer our bacteria in the following ways:
- We will use a double gene system to degrade our target antibiotic. This ensures prevention of gene transfer through viral vectors as it is highly improbable that the virus picks up both the genes.
- Prevent interbacterial sexual transfer of genes by cloning specific genes that prevent this process.
- In addition, we plan to have an user-inducible killswitch that is user modulated and the process can be controlled at any point in time without depending on the environment in which bacteria are operating.
- Our process is an efficient and cost-effective method of antibiotic degradation, which is often absent altogether in existing solutions.
Our literature surveys revealed that several of the most efficient resistance prevention options involve high costs, investments in technology and infrastructure or the proposals that are likely to be rather unpopular with the general public. Digestion of the farm waste can degrade almost all the sulfonamides present but takes five weeks. Methods like incineration and chemical methods also degrade all the antibiotics but this will add to the devastating problem of air pollution along with rendering the potential bio-fertilizer useless.
Given all these aforementioned problems, our product will be of immense potential as it will be fast as well as will not waste manure. Although our system of interest is animal excreta, our bacteria can be used in any system, like treating hospital waste and wastewater plants by replacing the antibiotic degrading genes according to the antibiotics suspected to be present in the system as our kill-switch doesn’t depend upon the system and externally controlled (except for glucose and arabinose).
Antibiotic degradation plants are not very easy to install and are not feasible as they involve chemicals and need large space to install the setup. But with our bacterial system, we will be able to set up a plant easily and we can install it wherever we like. The problem of AMR being global and colossal in nature, our novel idea also has the ability to attract venture funding.
We plan on degrading only one class of antibiotics as a proof of concept, but this can be scaled up to degrade any class of antibiotics by using a cocktail of antibiotic degrading genes cloned into a single organism.
This is a worldwide issue which all countries face. The World Health Organization has announced the Global Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance (GAP) is the World’s blueprint for tackling the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), thus making our project highly important for future.