Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Search Begins

Thank you to our Citizen Scientists who have sent back their 01 samples! We are now analysing them to find that illusive polystyrene degrading bacteria. Currently we have a nice collection of cultures growing and within the next few days we will be searching these colonies.

Mohammed, Luke and Anthony putting the samples into agar.
If you have a 01 sample in your garden at home, please send it for analysis in as it is still very valuable. Don't forget to sign the health & safety form before sending it back to us.

Emily - Bioinformatician

Friday, 6 July 2012

A call to all Citizen Scientists!

Citizen scientists,  it's time for you to dig up your polystyrene strips and send them back to us! On Monday we will start to analyse your samples in the lab, searching for that illusive polystyrene degrading bacteria. Don't forget you could get your contribution recognised in a published research article – citizen scientists whose samples harbour polystyrene-eaters will be invited to be authors on the paper reporting the team’s findings.

If you have only recently purchased your kits or they have not been in the ground for more than 4 weeks, they can be left in the ground for longer; with the ideal time being between 4-8 weeks. Kits starting with 01# should be ready to send back.
Keep a look out for a blog post, emails and tweets in one to two months time asking for your samples to be sent in. Even though we may not get round to processing your samples this summer period. Further samples will be held in storage for future entrance to the competition and are still very valuable.

View CSE Kits in a larger map

Above is a map showing where all of our CSE kits have come from, if you click on a pin it will show you a photo of the place where the sample was buried.
We are looking forward to adding your sample to map and analysing it in the lab. Please remember to return your sample with the signed health and safety letter.

Thanks for reading,

Emily Halsey - Bioinformatician

Monday, 2 July 2012

iGEM team make successful pitch to Styropack, our new sponsors!

Photo 1

On Thursday 21st June, four members of the iGEM Leicester team, accompanied by Dr. Badge, attended the Styropack Innovations Conference in Ford, West Sussex. Christopher, William, Emily and Luke put together a presentation about the project to deliver to the conference, which included representatives from Synbra (Styropack’s parent company), Roundstone Nurseries, Jablite and B&Q. For the event we put on our best suits, which Dr Badge kindly ironed for us! (photo 1)

After a long and very cosy journey to Ford, we were greeted by the cheery Group Sales Manager, Mike Pocok. We then enjoyed a tour of Styropack’s polystyrene production factory after the obligatory health and safety briefing. Our tour was  lead by the site manager John Crossley who delivered lots of fascinating polystyrene facts, while fielding questions from curious students and company representatives.

Photo 2
First of all we were shown around the warehouse, with towers of polystyrene packaging. (photo 2) The production lines are located in the same building where we learnt about the manufacturing processes, including the many recycling initiatives. The process involves using pentane and steam to expand the raw product (nicknamed “sugar” due to its granular appearance). (photo 3) Heat is recovered from the waste water from the expansion process, which is used to heat the incoming water to the boiler. The waste water is also recycled, along with any waste polystyrene. We also learned how the Styropack Ford site recycle its EPS with waste that it cannot recycle on site being sent to Envirocare a EPS recycler in Grimsby. South Coast Skips which is based in the same industrial estate take all other waste and recycle it, reducing the transport of the waste products. At the Ford site 2000 tonnes of Expanded PolyStyrene (EPS) is produced approximately each year.
Photo 3


After the tour we met up with Styropack and the other company representatives at the White Swan Hotel in Ford. The next item on the agenda was an incredibly informative and interesting presentation from Peter De Loose, Synbra Technical Sales Manager for BioFoam. The topic was an innovative method of creating material with near identical properties to polystyrene from natural resources, named BioFoam. The product is made from Poly-Lactic Acid (PLA) which can be produced from sugar cane, and so is sustainable compared to the oil derivatives used for EPS. Despite being biodegradable BioFoam can still be used in the construction industry because the biodegration processes are triggered by conditions (heat and water) only generated in industrial composters. This is an excellent example of how companies are looking for new and innovative ways to produce sustainable materials for the future.

Our presentation

The time had come for us to present our project. Nervously we waited our turn to present our parts while Dr. Badge introduced the iGEM competition. Christopher was first to speak, introducing our project idea and the impact that it could make in the disposal of expanded polystyrene. Up next was Luke, explaining that Pseudomonas bacteria have been found to degrade polystyrene in the soil. Next he spoke about the processes we will use to genetically modify the bacteria using a lab strain of E. coli to host the modified DNA. This flowed into William’s first part, speaking about the Citizen Science Experiment as a method for searching for the bacteria we need. Afterwards, the team’s Computer Scientist, Emily, delivered a small section about how computer simulation will be used in the project. Computer simulation is important to this project because the bacteria work at an incredibly slow rate, not within the time scale of the project. Therefore a simulation can used to show what may happen a year later or more further. Next it was the turn of our progress and achievements, presented by William. He spoke about our fundraising activities and the events we had attended raising awareness, with Dr. Badge rounding off the presentation.


Have you ever thought out making art with Polystyrene? Silo, a two-person team of designers have done just that. Oscar Wanless and Attua Aparicio make fabric moulds containing un-expanded polystyrene, and the moulds are then steamed to allow the raw material to expand and harden. The collection includes furniture and sculptures; it is worth a look

An exciting recycling initiative from B&Q in conjunction with Styropack was the next presentation. EPS recycling bins have been placed at B&Q head office to be collected by Styropack for recycling. The loop is complete by the collected EPS being used in the production of 'recycled-content' horticulture trays that will be sold in B&Q.

Picture 4
Since we were only a stone’s throw away from the sea, there was no excuse not to pay a visit to Climping beach for an ice-cream before travelling back to Leicester. ( Picture 4)

After returning to Leicester we were delighted to learn that Styropack wanted to become our latest sponsor – not only making a substantial financial contribution, but also assisting us with distribution of the Citizen Science kits through their national network of customers. All in all a fantastic result!

Photo of the members of the team who went to the Styropack Innovations Conference in Ford
From left to right, Emily Halsey, William Harrison, Dr Richard Badge, Luke Thompson, Christopher Morton
Photo taken by Colin Brooks, University of Leicester Cheif Photographer

Emily Halsey - Bioinformatician
Christopher Morton - Project leader