Millennium Post

VIT team to take up ocean acidification

A team from Vellore Institute of Technology has decided to use iGEM – a competition on synthetic biology and its interdisciplinary field – as a platform to come up with a way to tackle this global phenomena

One major phenomenon that has been witnessed over the last few decades is the explosion of technology and technological advancements. In order to reverse and combat the disasters that we have instigated, 'Genetic engineering' and its allied fields have been considered in the highest regard and many efforts have been put to encourage people to use this technology for the betterment of the world.

And to do the same, many events, conferences, ideations, competition, etc. have been organized to motivate people. One such renowned affair is the iGEM, International Genetically Engineered Machine, an annual event and a competition on synthetic biology and its interdisciplinary fields. It is a platform where various teams from all over the world showcase their projects to each other, learn from each other and also show their contribution to the scientific community and the general society. This event happens during the month of October, in MIT, Boston, USA.

A team from Vellore Institute of Technology decided to take up an underrated global phenomenon called Ocean Acidification, that has been affecting the world's oceans, and the associated estuaries and waterways, and is using iGEM as a platform to come up with a way tackle this issue. The Team, who call themselves iGEM VIT, is working on a novel idea to tackle this major environmental disaster, where the pH of oceans is gradually decreasing and becoming acidic.

The root cause of the problem is the increase in CO2 levels over years, which is absorbed by seawater. Ocean Acidification is a major issue throughout the world and the effects are majorly felt and clearly seen in the areas where there are coral reefs. The studies on ocean acidification are have just started and full-scale consequence of this phenomenon has not yet been fully understood and predicted.

The team started working on this issue after realizing the depth of the problem and the possible side effects of ocean acidification. The team's ideology to tackle the problem from the root led to the beginning of the team's six-month journey of research and development way to tackle this issue started.

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, selects five best teams with the most deserving projects, across India, in a competition called Indian Biological Engineering Competition (iBEC), and gives a grant of ten lakhs per team for them to participate in iGEM. For the very first time, a team from VIT, Vellore, bagged a place in the iBEC list of sponsored teams and won 10 lakhs to carry forward their project successfully.

The iGEM VIT team, along with their Primary Investigator, Dr R Siva Professor, and Head, Department of Biotechnology VIT is working on developing a genetically engineered bacterium that can stabilize the pH of the ocean.

Theoretically, when these bacteria are let into the ocean waters, it can stabilize the local pH and hence has the capacity to normalize the pH of the ocean when done on a large scale. The project can be used as an immediate, efficient, and economical way to provide a holistic and on-site solution to what is considered one of the major environmental problems of the modern day.

Apart from the laboratory work, the team has taken the initiative to speak to local and international experts in the field and attended conferences to understand the problem in depth. They have also taken the initiative to spread awareness about this problem by conducting a beach clean-up, collaborating with other teams participating in iGEM.

They are calling this project Toggle pH and are presenting their idea at MIT, Boston this month at the iGEM Jamboree, happening in the last week of October.

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