Water research at the University of Glasgow

Technology – Current

FRONTIER ENGINEERING – Synthetic Biology Applications to Water Supply And Remediation

FRONTIER ENGINEERING - Synthetic Biology Applications to Water Supply And Remediation

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have awarded the University of Glasgow £5.2M to bring together its expertise in water engineering and in synthetic biology to deliver new water technologies.

During the 5-year grant we will develop ways of controlling biofouling, techniques to optimise anaerobic digestion, powerful ‘iCHELL’ advanced oxidations systems (pictured), ‘protocell’ scavengers for harvesting resources from wastewater (pictured) and bio-electrosynthesis cells, where synthetic organisms generate fuel from waste. We will also explore responsible innovation in synthetic biology solutions.

Funded By: EPSRC
Investigators: Prof Bill Sloan, Prof Jon Cooper, Prof Leroy Cronin, Prof Steve Beaumont, Dr Christoper Quince and Prof Joseph Murphy.
More Information: EPSRC Details of Grant

Biodesalination: from cell to tap

Biodesalination: from cell to tap

Dr. Anna Amtmann leads a multidisciplinary team of biologists and engineers from Glasgow, Sheffield, Newcastle, Robert Gordon (Aberdeen) and Imperial College London in an EPSRC-funded project with the title ‘Bio-desalination: from cell to tap’. The aim of the project is to develop innovative desalination technology based on synthetic biology.

To build the synthetic ion-exchanger unit the Amtmann group ‘mixes and matches’ membrane proteins evolved by different organisms to work as sunlight-driven pumps and ion channels. The synthetic salt accumulator is then expressed in the biological chassis (e.g. cyanobacteria) under the control of a biological switch that can be triggered at a given time point in the process. The engineers in the team manipulate the surface properties of the synthetic cells in such a way that the cells float, sink or coagulate, and based on these properties they construct a process that continuously removes salt-saturated cells from the water. The beauty of the system is that it directly uses solar energy via photosynthesis and light-sensitive retinal proteins, and that its waste product (biomass) can be used to produce biofuel, biopharmaceuticals or biocosmetics.

Funded by: EPSRC
Principal Investigator: Dr Anna Amtmann

Predicting the drinking water microbiome

Predicting the drinking water microbiome

Despite vigorous treatment, every litre of drinking water contains tens of millions of taxonomically diverse microbial cells. The image below shows microbial cell aggregates from drinking water filtered onto a membrane surface. These microbes can affect (1) human health by causing diseases, (2) damage infrastructure through microbially induced corrosion, and (3) generate by-products that reduce the efficacy of disinfectants and deteriorate the aesthetic quality of water. With support from EPSRC   and in collaboration with Scottish Water, we are applying molecular biology tools and ecological theory to develop a predictive framework for microbial management in drinking water systems to ensure cost-effective uninterrupted supply of safe and healthy water to customers.

Funded by: EPSRC
Principal Investigators: Dr Ameet Pinto
More Information: EPSRC Details of Grant

Biogeochemical applications in nuclear decommissioning and disposal (BANDD)

Biogeochemical applications in nuclear decommissioning and disposal (BANDD)

This EPSRC-funded consortium is investigating new approaches to inhibiting radionuclide migration in the subsurface, using microbially-mediated biomineralisation to plug contaminant transport pathways.

Funded by: EPSRC
Principal Investigator: Dr Vernon Phoenix
More Information: http://bandd-research.org.uk/

SUPERGEN EPSRC Biological Fuel Cells Consortium

SUPERGEN EPSRC Biological Fuel Cells Consortium

This £3.4M grant funds a consortium of 6 UK Universities to developing advanced technologies that exploit the special properties of biological systems for energy production. Glasgow’s role is to use environmental genomics to explore the organisms that can generate electricity directly from wastewater in a microbial fuel cell.

Funded by: EPSRC
Principal Investigator: Prof Bill Sloan
More Information: EPSRC Details of Grant

Development of a Novel Membrane Bioreactor for Cost-effective and Environmentally Sustainable Wastewater Treatment and Microalgae Harvesting

Development of a Novel Membrane Bioreactor for Cost-effective and Environmentally Sustainable Wastewater Treatment and Microalgae Harvesting

The project aims to develop and evaluate a new membrane photobioreactor that represents a unique combination of forward osmosis membrane filtration and photobioreactor. The proposed membrane photobioreactor is able to simultaneously treat sewage whilst producing/harvesting microalgae biomass for biofuel production and capturing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Principal Investigator: Dr Xue Jin

Using trees to map groundwater pollution

Using trees to map groundwater pollution

Pollution investigation by trees (PIT) is an international research programme funded by the French agency for environment and energy management (ADEME) to develop the use of phytoscreening and dendrochemical applications at polluted sites. The term phytoscreening was coined to describe the use of plants to characterise polluted sites. Outermost rings of tree cores are microsampled and tested for sap-transported contaminants such as volatiles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS) and dioxins. Phytoscreening allows semi-quantitative delineation and mapping of groundwater plumes in a non-invasive, low cost and rapid manner.

This project was awarded the NICOLE Technology Awards 2012.

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