Potatoes are part of many cultures around the globe and are one of the majorly grown food crops in the world. Annually a loss of est. €460 million worth of potato crop is incurred due to Potato Cyst Nematodes (PCNs). These cysts can last in the soil for up to 20 years and hatch when conditions are favorable. The control of pathogens and pests using pesticides has substantially increased crop yields and helped to cope with increasing food demands. However, the extensive use of broad-spectrum pesticides has had a detrimental effect on soil biodiversity which is critical for maintaining nutrient cycling and soil detoxification.
A New Solution!
This year iGEM Groningen is trying to create a solution for the cyst nematode problem by developing RootPatch, a community of genetically engineered soil bacteria that will coat the roots of the potato plant. The goal of RootPatch is to prevent the loss of potato crops caused by PCNs. We hope to create an innovative way of protecting the potato crop that is safe to the environment and just as efficient as common nematicides. The biological solution we use is based on specific neuropeptides that are active only against target PCNs and not against other beneficial nematodes. To protect the plant from Globodera pallida, a PCN, B. mycoides will be genetically engineered to consistently secrete Neuropeptide like Proteins (NLPs), which modulate the activity of the nematode’s neuronal network.
The NLPs that we will be using are specific to G. pallida and induce a repelling behavior towards potato root exudate thereby preventing the infective juvenile from infiltrating the root system. Since survival of the parasite G.pallida juveniles is dependent on root infection, they will eventually die of starvation. The eventual long term goal of RootPatch is to provide potato farmers with a cheap, robust, and environment-friendly way of combating cyst nematodes. Due to the modular design of RootPatch, this strategy could potentially be used for other pathogens by swapping in one or more parts of the genetic circuit. This versatility opens up a lot of possible applications for similar technologies in the future.
A group of 12 motivated international graduate students from the University of Groningen are working together on a solution in the iGEM competition. iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) is an international competition in which ~250 multidisciplinary teams are challenged to find new innovative ways of solving modern scientific, environmental, and/or societal issues using synthetic biology. The University of Groningen has been successful in this competition for many years and even won the Grand Prize in 2012!
Besides their goal to find a new solution to the nematode problem, iGEM Groningen is collaborating with Dutch institutions to set up a new educational platform for high school students about the use of these kinds of genetically modified organisms. This platform aims to let students form an educated opinion on genetic modification and the use of genetically modified organisms. With the input from the high school students, an advisory report will be developed by the Erasmus Medical Center which will be presented to the Dutch government.
Why The Team Needs Your Help
To realize all of this, the iGEM Groningen team needs your help! While they have support from the university and the industry, they are still looking for financial support to compete in the competition and to develop their project. Every euro will count to get closer to their goal! With the money, they will be able to do their lab experiments and to run the computer simulations necessary to prove their idea. Furthermore, there are other aspects like the development of the educational platform and registration for the competition that requires funding. At the end of October, their idea will be evaluated by experts of the iGEM Foundation at the virtual iGEM finale event, joined by over 6000 students and academics. Help this group of passionate students in their mission to change the world of crop protection!