IGEM:JohnsHopkins/2008/Ideas/Styrene Biosynthesis(Astrobiology)

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The travel to, and the colonization of Mars, is a future goal of Man-kind that will be eventually realized with the help of synthetic biologists. One method that synthetic biologist will aid in this goal, is the utilization of biological machines to produce useful products. D. radiodurans is quite possibly the hardiest bacteria. It can withstand over 5,000 gray of radiation, and reassemble its genome with relative ease. When traveling in space the constant barrage of cosmic radiation poses a travel for both astronauts, as well as, whatever live cargo on board. Also the amount of radiation on the Martian surface may propose a problem for life trying to survive. Once landed, it will be crucial for space travelers to begin to make their own tools and useful products.

This is where D. radiodurans comes in. It has built into its genome the ability to degrade styrene into useful products. This means that it can most likely withstand high levels of styrene in media. This is useful because two genes, encoding phenylalanine ammonia lyase and a specifica decarboxylase, have been studied in plants and yeast to produce styrene from phenylalanine. If we could knock out D. radiodurans ‘ability to degrade styrene, and introduce these two genes, it would be possible to produce styrene, in space and on the Martian surface. Styrene is a crucial element in rubber, plastic, insulation, fiberglass, pipes, automobile parts, and food containers production and would be very useful in Astronautic applications.