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IgroBIO is an iGEM Desing League team whose purpose is to design an engineered machine that is capable to solubilize phosphorus from phytic acid, the main source of phosphorus in the soil from Guatemala.

1.1 Project Summary 

Guatemala’s biggest and strongest economic sector is agriculture, positioning itself as one of the world class producers of cardamom, banana, sugar, and coffee. At the same time, 40% of the Guatemalan population lives in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty. Many of these people choose to grow their own food or use crops as a means of income. At igroBio we understand this situation and are convinced that synthetic biology can help a large part of the population. One of the main problems with Guatemalan soil is poor bioavailability of phosphorus. Our project is focused on this issue.

Monocultures such as sugar cane represent a serious problem for biodiversity and soil health; However, sugarcane cultivation is also one of the activities that contributes the most to the gross domestic product in Guatemala and it is the direct source of income for dozens of thousands of families. For this reason, we believe that it is possible to find balance between economic profiting and social responsibility. Solving this problem would reduce the use of fertilizers, protect the health of the soils and make sugar cane cultivation more efficient.

Furthermore, sugar cane production is highly dependent on the phosphorus available in the soil. It drives producers to apply high amounts of fertilizers during the cultivation process, even when the soil is naturally rich in phosphorus. However, the formation of phosphorus complexes that cannot be absorbed or metabolized by plants decreases the efficiency of fertilizers. The continuous advancement of microbiology and genetic engineering techniques creates opportunities to design more efficient strategies for optimal crop development. Under this approach, we propose using phosphorus solubilizing organisms or some of the components involved in the solubilization processes as a substitute for conventional fertilizer. For this reason, we partnered with Ingenio Magdalena, the fourth biggest producer of sugar in the world. We seek to produce a biofertilizer that can help Ingenio Magdalena improve their sugarcane production and also benefit several poor communities they work with by teaching them novel techniques of cultivation.

We propose using a rather wide set of phosphorus solubilizing genes in a genetic circuit to be expressed in an E. coli strain. We will be working with a phytase and a glucose dehydrogenase enzyme, which are involved in different metabolic pathways involved in phosphorus solubility, like acid microenvironment formations, chelation and mineralization. Also, we will incorporate a regulation system for the production of gluconic acid to reduce the risk of over acidification of soil. The system consists of the use of a pH dependent promoter and regulates glucose dehydrogenase transcription using Cas13 and ADAR protein. 

1.2 Promotial Video

1.3 Project Presentation Video

1.4 Education and Communication Infographic

1.5 Team and Attributions