Engineered Biofilms for Detection & Degradation of Emerging Contaminants in Wastewater
The presence of newly identified or emerging contaminants (ECs) in bodies of water is of growing concern for the health and safety of humans and the environment. These undesirable organic compounds range from endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals to personal care products, pesticides, and fertilizers. The existing wastewater treatment plants lack adequate infrastructure for removing these pollutants. Synthetic biology, or the engineering of biological systems for useful applications, is well-suited to address the challenge of ECs. Bacteria, which already play an integral role in conventional wastewater treatment infrastructure, can be equipped with synthetic DNA encoding genes to efficiently sense and degrade a wide variety of contaminants. In this project, we propose the use of a synthetic biology approach to develop a self-assembling catalytic bacterial biofilm capable of degrading and detecting ECs. This modular biofilm strategy can provide an inexpensive, low-maintenance, and precise solution for quantifying and degrading ECs in real-time with the potential for seamlessly integrating into existing wastewater treatment infrastructure.