December 11th, 2017

iGEM team going green with printer ink

By Schnarr, J.W. on August 17, 2017.

Biological pigment being developed

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

This year’s University of Lethbridge iGEM team is working turn printer ink green. Just not the way you might think.

“Our project is the development of biological pigment for use in the manufacturing of ink,” Erin Kelly, a U of L master’s student and graduate student co-ordinator of the High School iGEM team stated in a recent news release. “We found that the manufacturing of the pigment in the ink can actually be a harmful process to the environment, as well as being quite costly.”

iGEM is the annual competition for the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation. It is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to education and competition, the advancement of synthetic biology, and development of open community and collaboration.

The group will be working to try to solve both issues using synthetic biology to create pigment substitutes – like the black, cyan, magenta and yellow found in printer ink – that can be found in nature.

Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities, which can be enzymes, genetic circuits or cells, by redesigning existing biological systems.

Currently, the pigment in black ink is obtained by burning petroleum. Other pigments are chemically synthesized or come from minerals that are mined.

“Other pigments we’re using are found in different types of flowers,” stated Sydnee Calhoun, a biochemistry student, team adviser and member of the Collegiate iGEM team. “For example, the magenta pigment we’re using is found in apple trees.”

The U of L iGEM group is going in a different direction.

Pigments can be made from plants but it is not necessarily a sustainable practice in all cases. Synthetic biology allows for systemic control.

The team is using bacteria, which are easily reproduced and more sustainable than plant extraction, to make these pigments.

The bacteria are easy to grow and to control – as are their genes.

“We’re doing a bit of genetic engineering to transfer the genes from plants that make these colours to the bacteria, so we can make more pigment in a smaller volume of space,” stated Kelly.

Since January, the team, comprised of a dozen high school students from LCI, Chinook High School and Winston Churchill High School, has been designing the project and working on the human practices component with the guidance of student advisers and faculty members.

The team wrote a paper about the design of their project and submitted it to Biotreks, an online journal for high school students, where they earned an Education Award for communicating their knowledge and techniques to their peers. They also earned an award for visual communication for their use of tables and figures to augment their work.

Allison Leam, a Grade 12 student from LCI, stated she has gained lab skills, learned to work as part of a team and how to commit to a project.

“If a student likes science and can commit the time, then I’d advise them to join iGEM. They’ll learn a lot and it’s a lot of fun,” says Leam.

“They’ll get experiences they won’t get anywhere else and meet a great team of people who all want to be there.”

The team is expected to present their project at a city council meeting on Aug. 28, followed by a public display in the foyer of city hall from 5 to 7 p.m.

Check the U of L iGEM Team Facebook page for future updates.

The team also has a GoFundMe account to help fundraise to send team members to Boston. All contributions are appreciated.

For donation information, visit

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter

Share this story:
You have 7 free stories left to read this month. Subscribe Now & get unlimited access

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.