Team:OLS Canmore AB CA

The BreaKERs

We are the "Our Lady of The Snows Catholic Academy - OLS" team from Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Our project aims to break down hair in wastewater treatment facilities, and to break down feather waste in the poultry industry.

Our plan is to genetically engineer E.coli K12 to express Keratinase—an enzyme that breaks down the protein keratin, found in feathers and hair. We will use the KeratinaseA (KERA) and KeratinaseUS (KERUS) genetic sequences found naturally in the Bacillus genera. The KERA and KERUS sequences will be optimized for expression in E.coli, synthesized into plasmid rings, and ligated into a standard biobrick backbone for submission to the iGEM parts registry. It is from 'Keratinase' and 'keratin break-down' that we chose our name, The BreaKERs, and our motto, that we are KER-ate chopping the keratin waste.

After much brainstorming (above), we chose our project topic because our small community is struggling to deal with hair build-up in our wastewater treatment facilities. These build-ups have caused equipment failure, clogs, and increased maintenance costs for our town. We researched and found that the only current strategy being applied to these blockages is to manually remove the accumulated hair. We thought there must be a better way, using synthetic biology, to solve this problem. Through our research we also found that keratin waste is a huge issue in the poultry processing industry, as feathers are also made up of the protein keratin. Billions of tonnes of feather wastes build-up, with limited options for disposal. Currently, feathers are often being disposed of in environmentally harmful ways. One method is incineration, which leads to the release of many pollutants, foul odours, and harmful runoff contaminating livestock and plants in the surrounding area. Burying the waste is another common disposal method, which leads to harmful leachates. As keratin is protein-rich, there is an option of turning keratin waste into products such as animal feed or fertilizer; however this process is extremely extensive, expensive and time consuming, often producing products of low quality.

Our project this year will provide an inexpensive and efficient method to more completely break down the keratin proteins in both hair and feathers, providing a step towards solving the issue of keratin waste treatment.

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