Do you like eating Stamppot? How about some delicious fries? Hutspot? All these popular Dutch dishes have one ingredient in common – potato. Potatoes are part of many cultures around the globe and are one of the majorly grown food crops in the world. However, just like most plants in agriculture, the potato plant is experiencing the negative effects of parasitic organisms from the environment, such as parasitic cyst nematodes (Globodera Pallida & Rostochiensis). These small soil-living worms infiltrate the root of the potato plant and use energy that is necessary for the development of the plant and its potatoes. Their impact is often not directly visible but according to estimations, they are responsible for an annual loss of €460 million in Europe alone. Current methods to deal with these parasitic nematodes are either damaging to other (beneficial) organisms in the environment or are insufficient to protect the plant. With your help, we might get a step closer to prevent the loss by parasitic nematodes!
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!
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. This bacterial community is engineered in such a way that it not only provides nutritional support to the plant, but also repels the nematodes away by acting on their nervous system. While normally the nematodes are attracted towards the plant, they now will try to avoid it. A method which hasn’t been used before and which shows great potential to be very efficient and specific only to the parasitic nematodes, thereby preventing unwanted effects to other animals and plants in the environment. In addition, this new way of using bacteria to ward off nematodes can be implemented to different agricultural plants experiencing parasitism as well by other nematode species.
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. The aim of this platform is 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 University of Leiden which will be presented to the Dutch government.
Why The Team Needs Your Help
In order 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. In addition, there are other aspects like the development of the educational platform and registration for the competition that require 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!