TED Conversations

Philipp Böing

Founder: Darwin Toolbox, SynBioSoc / UCL iGEM organizer, University College London


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What genetically engineered machines (modified bacteria) should we build?

Dear everyone,

I'm part of a student team participating in the "international genetically engineered machine competition" ( http://www.igem.org ). During this year we will build modified bacteria, with the aim of doing something useful. Everything we build and all results will be open-source.

Our aim this year is not just to do science in our laboratory, but instead with an acute awareness of society, including continuous feedback on the ethical, legal and social issues (and if we can manage, public participation in the scientific process itself).

At the moment we are at square one: Idea Generation. During the next week, our team will brainstorm ideas and develop project candidates. But we also want to tap into highly engaged communities such as TED conversations, to collect interesting ideas for a "genetically engineered machine".

So here's my question: "Which genetically engineered machine (modified bacteria) should we build?" (what are the biggest problems that could be tackled / What are the most ingenious uses of modified bacteria )


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  • Feb 26 2013: Bacteria that can purify water, a combination of inorganic materials where the bacteria can feed itself and have some type of function (photocatalytic perhaps) that can purify water.
      • Feb 26 2013: Not exactly, read it very well and focus on this part:
        Our Sporobeads can be used to purify water from heavy metal ions, toxins and plastic by expressing proteins on their surface that specifically bind such targets.
        and I repeat the important part of this:

        heavy metal ions, toxins and plastic
        those are very limited pollutants in water, water purification is more complex than that, therefore my original comment states a bacteria that acts as a pig (can practically digest anything) in water, not a chicken (that will only feed on some limited organic and inorganic materials), pigs have an incredible digestive capacity to eat almost anything in front of them and properly dipoe of it, hence creating a bacteria that purifies water is more complex than simply removing some heavy metals and some organic materials, it requires a true feeder bacteria to acomplish that.

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