Purdue students hoping to combat toxic algae problem

[USA]  group of Purdue students is working on a research project that could help stop the spread of toxic algae.

The beaches of South Florida have been covered in toxic algae for more than a week, and a state of emergency in many areas of the popular tourist destination are still in effect.

This makes the efforts of Paige Rudin and this year’s Purdue I-GEM team even more important.

“We are working to engineer a new strand of E. coli that will uptake phosphorus from the water, which is significant because phosphorous is a limiting nutrient for these algae blooms,” said Rudin. “So, if we remove the phosphorus, we stop the algae growth.”

When runoff from pollutants mix with the fresh and saltwater, giant phosphorescent plumes of algae form and makes the water unsafe for human and aquatic life.

The team chose this project before the algae in Florida even became a problem.

“We noticed the Celery Bog, just here by Purdue’s campus, also has some algal blooms which become worse as the summer progresses,” Rudin said. “But Florida gave us the perspective that this is something we can apply in many different scenarios.”

It’s not an easy process though. This is the second year for head member Bowman Clark who knows the challenges.

“You run into problems with experiments,” explained Clark. “Transformations may not go well one day, like a gel will run funny and you’ll have to re-run it.”

Clark, Rudin and the rest of the seven-person team may only be undergraduate students, but they are doing hands-on research.

“We will do transformations into E. coli. So we will actually put the gene into a plasma, and put it into the E. coli, and then we will grow that up,” said Clark.

In the fall, more than 300 I-GEM clubs from around the world will get together and show off research. While Rudin and Clark want to win a gold medal, they realize their research is much more important than a prize.

“It’s really us as undergraduate students who get to solve these problems, and I’ve thought that’s been very enjoyable to work on something that has the potential for such a large impact,” said Rudin.

Clark said, “Being able to create an organism that can help fight the phosphorous problem is a very important goal for us.”


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