2020 Waterloo iGEM team wins gold with a project to recover heavy metals from wastewater

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Waterloo iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) team has been recognized with a number of awards this year at the annual competition. In addition to receiving Gold standing, their project also received the award for best Manufacturing Project at the undergraduate level, it was also nominated for the iGEM Inclusivity Award and the Best Wiki Award!

The iGEM competition is an international competition where teams of students explore a project in synthetic biology to build solutions for problems or challenges in our world. The University of Waterloo has been competing in iGEM competitions for the last 15 years.

Despite having to move to an online early this year, the 2020 iGEM team managed to not only navigate this change successfully, but has achieved the first gold standing for a Waterloo team since 2016.

Their project, titled Remine, looks at ways in which heavy metals can be extracted from electronics manufacturing wastewater. Heavy metals are used in abundance in the manufacturing of electronic devices – including the one you are using to read this article – however, are usually both toxic to the environment and human health. Heavy metals are also costly to mine, so by recovering them from wastewater, they can also be reused.

This led the team to developing this year’s project – a packed column bioreactor containing metal-binding proteins that will remove and recover the heavy metals. As part of their project, the team created this video to explain their work!

The iGEM team, 38 undergraduate students from faculties across the University, were split into three sub-teams, each with a different focus in the areas of lab and design, human practice, and mathematical modeling of the heavy metals in wastewater.

Congratulations to the entire iGEM team for their successful project and participation this year!