Copenhagen University iGEM team harvest sunlight with new design

At this year’s Nordic iGEM Competition (NiC), a team from Copenhagen University developed a coculturing system that combines the properties of microalgae (cyanobacterium) and a bacterium to harvest sunlight to produce essential compounds. These compounds could take the form of biopharmaceutical materials, vitamins or plastics for 3D printing.

iGEM CosmoCrops
The team presenting their design for CosmoCrops (Courtesy of NiC)

A qualified team

The university team is made up of ten Bachelor’s and Master’s students studying in multiple disciplines including biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, nanotechnology, physical chemistry, physics, molecular biomedicine, computer science and mathematics. The expert team worked together to design a molar coculture system for the bioproduction of chemical compounds in space. They explained the ultimate goal of their innovative project, saying:

“The development of better ways to exploit sunlight in the production of biomaterials can lead to more sustainable and diverse production methods, and to life essential onsite production in remote areas like a moon or Mars base…We ultimately wish to supply the international space station and future moon or Mars bases with more flexible bioreactors consisting of interchangeable cartridges allowing for onsite production of bioplastics and pharmaceutical compounds all from the same biological system.”

How it works

The team used the bacterium Bacillus subtilis because of its ability to grow spores, allowing it survive for much longer without needing supplementary nutrition. This could potentially prolong future space missions, and even has possible applications in repairing mechanical malfunctions. “It would be revolutionary to have the capacity to manufacture various resources needed without prior knowledge of exact mission requirements,” said one student member.

Nordic iGEM winners
Congratulatory diploma and golden pipette awarded to competition winners (Courtesy of Joachim Steen Larsen)

The Nordic iGEM Competition

The CosmoCrops’ design submission won the team first place at their local competition, where they competed against four other nordic countries in Stockholm, Sweden. The NiC is a subsidiary of the larger international iGEM competition that will take place this October in Boston. In fact, 3DPI recently reported on another team of iGEM participants – the creators of the Culture Shock lightbulb – from the UK who are set to display their design at the upcoming event.