Bolivia | Proposed



Our proposed end-users & how we envision them using our project

As the Bolivia team, we identified that the community members in urban and rural areas will benefit from the visibility of their problems. However, when reflecting on the whole social and educational context we came to the conclusion that the best end users to make use of the Biosensor should be:


Initially we considered rural and urban communities as our direct end users. However, we realized that in Bolivia several researchers are making a concerted effort to identify the problems caused by the presence of arsenic in water for the people affected in terms of public health (2). These researchers need to resort to highly specialized detection methods that are difficult to access in rural areas where conditions are not the best to house such equipment, which makes the water sampling process exponentially more difficult. In addition, correctly confirming the data obtained requires a large investment of physical energy and resources due to the long distances that must be traveled to sample wells, bodies of water and send them to the laboratory. With Arsemaphore we accelerate the above mentioned processes.


Likewise, we consider as end users those institutions specialized in water remediation of As and other heavy metals such as AGUATUYA and CASA, who showed great interest in the biosensor as a tool to facilitate the detection of arsenic in contaminated water. For example, Mr. Renato Montoya, Executive Director of the AGUATUYA, allowed us to visit some of the wastewater treatment plants, which are developed in the municipality of Sacaba (3). The plant has a purification tool to remove organic matter that pollutes the water. When he heard about our project, he felt very interested because the presence of heavy metals in contact with bacteria affects their viability. For this reason our biosensor would help to prevent the inefficiency of the plant. At the same time, we were offered to test our biosensor along the validation with the plant, for about 6 months. This event will allow us to improve our biosensor under different scenarios.


How we would implement our project in the real world: Arsemaphore in the real world

From the activities carried out with experts in the social area and our research, we thought that the use of synthetic biology would generate susceptibility and possible reluctance to accept our project as a solution. However, with the visits we made to the communities we realized that we were wrong. The success obtained in our visits and interaction with community members was due to the methodology we used to integrate our project. For this reason, the implementation of the biosensor will include educational actions to sensitize the population to understand the solutions from synthetic biology and guarantee the necessary biosafety measures

A device that helps end users

Considering aspects such as health, bacteria should not come into direct contact with the person, because it is handled by means of a device; which will determine the samples under study. Through the mechatronic device it is possible to interpret, record and disseminate the manifestations of bacteria from 18 different samples quickly and accurately in a small space, being its main objective to accompany and enhance the biosensor, considering as an important feature to reduce the exposure time of the operator with the bacteria. The information obtained may be observed by the operator in real time in addition to being transmitted via Wireless (wireless signals). It is portable and has an independent battery to facilitate its use by technicians. The device will report semi-quantitative results compared to atomic absorption spectrophotometry(5) which provides quantitative ones. However , our device facilitates expeditions to regions of our country where it is not easy to access the use of mass spectrophotometry. Our response time is a maximum of 24 hours. This helps a lot in mass data collection, it is field accessible, mobile, it is much cheaper.




Conclusion about “The Problem & Our Human-Centered Approach”

In the year 2021, it became clear to the world that it was urgent and our responsibility to take climate change issues seriously. Therefore, to contribute to the recovery of the water bodies, we have developed a Biosensor for Arsenic detection which is affordable, and will allow us to democratize the use of synthetic biology in Bolivia. It is our understanding that this will not solve the problem, consequently, it remains vitally important to generate tools that comprises all the necessary steps from collection, treatment, and distribution of water.

The proposal of the Bolivian team is the development of a Biosensor for the detection of Arsenic in drinking water, it is a whole cell Biosensor in which an E. coli DH5α will be transformed with a genetic circuit designed by the Bolivian team. It will have specificity for arsenic, and it will contain a detection module, processing module, and output module, resulting in a signal that is characterized by the color change of chromoproteins. It is measurable in case of the presence of arsenic in the studied water samples.


Other challenges to be considered: To future and solutions

We are aware that our project does not solve the As problem in the urban and rural communities that we visited. However, our commitment and responsibility towards the communities that allowed us to make their problems visible, it is up to us to explore solutions so that in the future the Bolivia team can be part of the solutions to the presence and contamination of As.

Mechanisms of Arsenic Transformation by Bacteria

In our research on bioremediation, we found that bacteria are versatile due to all different metabolic pathways they present. Arsenic resistant microorganisms are capable of detoxifying their cells by the transport of arsenic, either in its oxidized form of arsenate or in the reduced form of arsenite. Microorganisms that live in arsenic rich environments, and transform As(V) to As(III) are present in different branches of the tree of life, but they should have three main enzyme systems:

  • Arsenite oxidase
  • Arsenate reductase
  • Cytoplasmic arsenate reductase, cytoplasmic arsenate reductase and cytoplasmic arsenate reductase.

A large number of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria employ a common arsenic resistance mechanism based on the arsRDABC operon encoding five genes, which corresponds to the most studied arsenic detoxification system and is involved in the reduction of arsenate to arsenite by the enzyme arsenate reductase that expels arsenite out of the cell using an arsenic ejector pump(6).


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  2. De Loma J., Gliga, A., Levi, M., Ascui, F., Gardon, J., Tirado, N. y Broberg, K. (2020). Exposición al arsénico y proteínas relacionadas con el cáncer en la orina de mujeres indígenas bolivianas. Frontiers. Salud Pública, 8(605123). Read more
  3. Aguatuya. (2016). Se inaugura la planta de tratamiento de aguas residuales de Curubamba, en Sacaba. Read more
  4. Funes, F., Panozo, A. y Cardozo, T. (2005). Manual de Bioseguridad Y Bioprotección: En Ámbitos Universitarios Y Hospitalarios (1era ed.). Impresiones Poligraf. Read more
  5. Martinez, L y Gasquez, J. (2005, del 25 al 28 de octubre).Determinación de arsénico en aguas: diferentes técnicas y metodologías [seminario;congreso]. IIº Seminario Hispano-Latinoamericano sobre temas actuales de hidrología subterránea; IVº Congreso Hidrogeológico Argentino, San Luis, Argentina.
  6. Rodríguez, L., Peña, M., Gutiérrez, A., González, C., Montes, S. y López, G. (2017). Biorremediación de arsénico mediada por microorganismos genéticamente modificados. Tierra latinoamericana, 35(4), 353–361.
  7. Escalera, R., Ormachea, M., Ormachea, O. y Heredia, M. (2014). Presencia natural de arsénico en aguas de pozos profundos y su remoción usando un prototipo piloto basado en colectores solares de bajo costo. Investigación & desarrollo, 2(14), 85 – 93.
  8. Saavedra, J. (2021, 13 de junio). El proyecto de ley de OGM y una moratoria. Diario Página Siete. Read more