The 'Poisoned' Pine River

Our project focuses on a local problem - DDx pollution in the floodplains of the local Pine River
Danger! Dealing with DDx
Pesticides such as DDT and its derivatives (collectively referred to as DDx) persist in the enviroment and can cause problems for human health and ecosystems. By acting as a xenoestrogen, it can disrupt the endocrine system of a variety of organisms.

St. Louis, Michigan is a small town that neighbors Alma College. In the 1970's, the Velsicol chemical plant was producing DDT and other chemicals which ended up polluting the local environment. In fact, St. Louis is a superfund site and is actively being addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a governmental agency that responds to environmental issues. However, monitoring progress is expensive and time-consuming.
Bolestering efforts with a BioSensor
What if detection of DDx was cheaper and faster? Then, cleanup efforts can be directed to problem areas more effectively and for less funds - which can be key for winning public support or addressing pollution in improversihed areas.

We are answering this call using Synthetic Biology - using genetic circuits to create a low-cost BioSensor that can rapidly report on DDx levels. How can we do this? By utilizing some of the very same biological targets of DDx, such as estrogen receptors.
Estrogen Receptors and Reporters
Our BioSensor designs utilize estrogen receptors from different species to specifically detect DDx versus other molecules.

When DDx binds to an estrogen receptor, it can trigger production of a reporter gene such as Red Fluoresence Protein, which can be easily detected.
Responsible Cleanup
Cleaning up pollution can be a sticky subject (and not just because DDT is very hydrophobic). Pollution can have both biological and social impacts on a community, and communication problems with cleanup efforts can erode public trust in organizations like the EPA.

By leveraging new technology, combined with outreach to stakeholders and the broader community, we hope to raise awareness of this problema and foster better relationships and community support.
We are Team Alma, and this is 'Poisoned River'

Here, you can read more about our ongoing journey to restore and revive our local Pine River and floodplain.

Although DDT was banned in the US decades ago, the legacy of pollution it has left behind is felt in our community, and elsewhere across the world. Together, we can empower communities to finally tackle these problems and enjoy healthy rivers and floodplains once again.

Alma, MI
Alma College is located in Alma, Michigan, a small town located in the middle of Michigan, USA. The Pine river flows through our town, less than a mile from campus, before reaching our neighbor and downstream city, St. Louis, MI. Once a pleasant river in a idyllic rural setting, the Pine suffers from a multitude of pollution problems that limit its use and enjoyment.
Support and Sponors
This work would not have been possible without support from Alma College - faculty, staff, and students. A special thanks goes to the Student Congress organization. We also want to thank Integrated DNA technologies, New England Biolabs, and Twist Bioscience for their support.