“Genetically engineered” strain of E. coli bacteria used to detect oil

Researchers Use Bacteria as Environmental Sensor, Project Causes E. Coli to Glow in the Presence of Petrochemical Pollutants, Univ. of Texas at Dallas, November 29, 2010:

A UT Dallas student team has harnessed common bacteria to quickly detect the presence of potentially hazardous petrochemicals in water or seafood…

Acting in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon well that spewed 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico last summer, the students… used standard molecular biology tools to reprogram a harmless strain of E. coli to glow when exposed to certain pollutants. Those pollutants are associated with a host of health risks, including cancer, heart damage, liver damage and kidney failure, according to the United Nations World Water Assessment Program.

“Many of these chemicals are persistent contaminants that circulate through the environment, polluting water supplies and marine ecosystems for extended periods of time,” the students explained in their project materials. …

Venturing into the quickly evolving field of synthetic biology, the students took their results to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where more than 100 student teams recently participated in iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. In this debut year, the UT Dallas team received a non-competitive gold medal for the quality of their work.

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