Bio filters from tree fungi . Synthetic variant research by 15 students on enzymes that can break down estrogen may have an end result of a filter that will remove estrogen’s from waste water and drinking water. Can this be a new remedy to help end drinking water contamination?
From the Genome-Based Systems Biology, Molecular Cell Biology, and Molecular Biotechnology degree programmes, 15 students have been spending their free time since May of 2012 in the laboratory making new DNA building blocks, reproducing them, and producing enzymes. They have submitted the project to the ‘international Genetically Engineered Machine competition’ (iGEM) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA. Their initial results have furnished the foundation for optimistic success in solving the problem of drinking water contamination due to estrogen’s in the water.
Basis of Bielefeld students research: Certain fungi growing on dead wood such as fallen trees contain enzymes that can break down estrogen. The 15 Bielefeld students are using a synthetic variant in their research. The primary outcome of the research is positive.
The students are now trying to convince global active companies in the biotechnology and chemistry sector to supply the funding to cover the costs of entering this swiftly growing global competition in synthetic biology.
This article is courtesy of Phys.Org™ published June 25, 2012
Turkey tails are fungi growing on dead wood such as fallen trees. They contain enzymes that can break down estrogen. However, the Bielefeld students are using a synthetic variant in their research. Credit: iGEM-Team Bielefeld-Germany
A biological filter to remove estrogens from waste water and drinking water. The 15 Bielefeld students submitting this project to the ‘international Genetically Engineered Machine competition’ (iGEM) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA are setting their sights high.
They are persuading internationally active companies and associations in the biotechnology and chemistry sector to contribute several ten thousands of Euros to cover the costs of entering this rapidly expanding global competition in synthetic biology. Since May, they have been spending their free time in the laboratory making new DNA building blocks, reproducing them, and producing enzymes. First results give reason for optimism.
The birth control pill is a widespread contraception method. However, large amounts of these modified estrogens leave the body again in urine. The conventional methods in sewage treatment plants are unable to treat this waste water sufficiently because the most frequently used estrogen ethinylestradiol is very difficult to break down. As a result, the hormone finds its way into rivers and lakes and also accumulates in drinking water with serious consequences for fish and other aquatic life. These range from reproductive and severe developmental disorders to the formation of female sexual characteristics in males. The long-term consequences of increasing estrogen pollution for human beings are still largely unknown. Nonetheless, declining sperm counts and thereby increasing infertility in men living in industrial nations may well relate to this hormonal pollution. In addition, testicular and prostate cancers as well as osteoporosis (a reduction in bone density) could be a consequence of overly high concentrations of estrogen in the human body.
Bio filters from tree fungi
The goal of the Bielefeld iGEM team is to develop a biological filter in which certain enzymes (so-called laccases) break down the estrogen helping remove the drinking water contamination resulting from the estrogen. Laccases are to be found in many organisms, and one of their properties is an ability to break down aromatic compounds – to which the estrogens belong. One source of particularly efficient laccases for this process is the turkey tail, a type of fungus that likes to grow on trees. The Bielefeld students are aiming to manufacture this enzyme economically and safely with the help of methods from synthetic biology. It should also be possible to extend the concept to other, in part poisonous and carcinogenic pollutants in drinking and waste water. The students already have one first success to announce: they have managed to isolate the genes of several laccases from various bacteria and have placed them in a standard, allowing further development. By the time of the European Jamboree in October, they want to have confirmed how the enzymes break down various substrates such as estrogens, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals and to be starting to immobilize them to filter materials.
Doing research in their own time
The Bielefeld team is composed of 15 students in the Genome-Based Systems Biology, Molecular Cell Biology, and Molecular Biotechnology degree programmes. Participating in the international competition means sacrificing many hours of their own free time, because the Bielefeld students have to carry out the research on top of their regular studies. Moritz Müller, a Master student of Molecular Biotechnology, explains why participating is nonetheless attractive: ‘Taking part in the competition gives you a chance to build up your own laboratory work while you are still studying, to pursue your own ideas, and even carry out your own project. These are the sort of challenges you will be facing in your professional career’. The students are being supported by Professor Dr. Alfred Pühler, Professor Dr. Erwin Flaschel, Dr. Jörn Kalinowski, and Dr. Christian Rückert from Bielefeld University’s CeBiTec (Center for Biotechnology).
The iGEM competition has been held every year since 2003 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. Starting as an MIT study course, the number of competitors has grown rapidly from five teams in 2004 to more than 190 in the present year. All teams face the same task: taking their project from the idea across the laboratory work to gaining funding and communicating the findings. As Dr. Jörn Kalinowski stresses, ‘on the student level, the iGEM competition is the world championship in synthetic biology – and it shows what potential this still young field of research has in the near future. Over 2,000 brilliant young minds from the best universities throughout the world are competing with each other. As in the current Bielefeld project, they set themselves ecological and social challenges and often find unconventional solutions to solve drinking water contamination. At the same time, the iGEM competition draws the attention of international companies and associations to the students and their promising ideas. The competition has a worldwide impact’. Because of the large numbers of competitors, continental preliminaries called jamborees have been organized since 2011. The European Jamboree will be held from 5-7 October in Amsterdam, Holland. It will decide which European teams get to travel to Boston, USA for the finals in November. Bielefeld University is competing for the third year in a row, and already succeeded in qualifying for Boston in 2010 and 2011.
Provided by University of Bielefeld
Municipal and industrial wastewaters contain a variety of pollutants, such as estrogens and xeno-estrogens, this chemical drinking water contamination can cause severe disorders in humans and animals. Effects of exposure may range from reduced fertility and feminization of males in animals to increased risks of cancer and osteoporosis in humans. Sewage and wastewater treatment plants can only provide a partial treatment for such pollutants.
Bielefeld’s 2012 iGEM Team aims to develop a filter system using immobilized laccases to reduce the levels of estrogens and other pollutants in wastewater. Moreover, this system should be extended to further possibilities for industrial use, such as in paper and textile industries, or even for bioremediation of contaminated soil. By using synthetic biology methods, different laccases could be standardized and cheaply tested and produced.
Birth control pill chemicals and drinking water contamination: click>>
Chemical drinking water contamination explanation:
May 24, 2012 by Bob Yirka
(Phys.org) — As people go about their daily lives, it’s easy to overlook the impact their lifestyle has on the environment. Resources are used and as a result of their use, certain elements are placed back into the environment, some of which many people may not even think about. One of these is what happens to chemicals we take in after our bodies finish with them? Some are breathed into the air though most are flushed down the toilet after being deposited into our feces and urine. Workers at waste treatment facilities could point out chemical ingredients found in shampoos, for example, or those used in the production of food for another and most particularly drugs that we take to keep our various ailments at bay.
One class of drug in particular has many environmentalists concerned; those that are found in birth control pills. One such ingredient in the “pill” is ethinyl estradiol, which is a type of estrogren. In people, it helps prevent pregnancy, in other organisms, however, it might cause problems with the development of sexual organs leading to infertility or birth defects. This is possible because when wastewater is treated before being dumped back into an ocean, lake or river, no attempt is made to remove this particular chemical. And that is why a college professor and a ecotoxicologist have teamed up to write a paper (published in the journal Nature) suggesting that a public discourse on the matter be held before public officials decide whether to dedicate funds to cleaning such drugs from wastewater, or not.
Millions of women the world over take the pill every day; its development and use has given modern women the freedom to make choices their ancestors never dreamed of. But as with most advances in science, there is a price to pay and it can be found in the possibility of intersex fish and other amphibians that live in habitats close to where effluent from wastewater treatment facilities is pumped. The emphasis is on the possibility of it happening though, as thus far, it has not been proved that this occurs outside of testing labs.
In their paper, Richard Owen and Susan Jobling argue that decision-making regarding expenditures to clean such chemicals from wastewater should follow a public discourse. This is in response to the announcement that the European Parliament legislative committee is set to decide whether to recommend to the full Parliament, allocating some €35 billion for cleaning the chemical from wastewater across Europe, in November. They don’t believe such an important issue should be addressed and decided in private, without input from non-invited scientists or those that will be footing the bill, i.e. regular people.
They say whatever decision is made will likely set a precedent, which other countries are sure to follow, which makes it all the more important that as many voices as possible be heard.
More information: Environmental science: The hidden costs of flexible fertility, Nature 485, 441 (24 May 2012) doi:10.1038/485441a
Urgent public debate is needed over a European proposal to regulate environmental levels of the active ingredient in birth-control pills, say Richard Owen and Susan Jobling.
Pathways of testosterone biosynthesis and action
Estrogens (AmE), or oestrogens (BE), are a group of compounds named for their importance in the estrous cycle of humans and other animals. They are the primary female sex hormones. Natural estrogens are steroid hormones, while some synthetic ones are non-steroidal. The name comes from the Greek οἶστρος (oistros), literally meaning “gadfly” but figuratively sexual passion or desire, and the suffix -gen, meaning “producer of”.
Like all steroid hormones, estrogens readily diffuse across the cell membrane. Once inside the cell, they bind to and activate estrogen receptors which in turn modulate the expression of many genes. Additionally, estrogens have been shown to activate a G protein-coupled receptor, GPR30.
The three major naturally occurring estrogens in women are estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). Estradiol is the predominant estrogen during reproductive years both in terms of absolute serum levels as well as in terms of estrogenic activity. During menopause, estrone is the predominant circulating estrogen and during pregnancy estriol is the predominant circulating estrogen in terms of serum levels. Though estriol is the most plentiful of the three estrogens it is also the weakest, whereas estradiol is the strongest with a potency of approximately 80x that of estriol. Thus, estradiol is the most important estrogen in non-pregnant females who are between the menarche and menopause stages of life. However, during pregnancy this role shifts to estriol, and in postmenopausal women estrone becomes the primary form of estrogen in the body. Another type of estrogen called estetrol (E4) is produced only during pregnancy. All of the different forms of estrogen are synthesized from androgens, specifically testosterone and androstenedione, by the enzyme aromatase.
Premarin, a commonly prescribed estrogenic drug produced from the urine of pregnant mares, contains the steroidal estrogens equilin and equilenin. There are estradiol skin patches such as Estraderm (the original brand, introduced in the late 1980s) that offer a completely natural alternative.
A range of synthetic and natural substances have been identified that also possess estrogenic activity.
Unlike estrogens produced by mammals, these substances are not necessarily steroids.
Estrogens, in females, are produced primarily by the ovaries, and during pregnancy, the placenta. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the ovarian production of estrogens by the granulosa cells of the ovarian follicles and corpora lutea. Some estrogens are also produced in smaller amounts by other tissues such as the liver, adrenal glands, and the breasts. These secondary sources of estrogens are especially important in postmenopausal women. Fat cells produce estrogen as well.
In females, synthesis of estrogens starts in theca interna cells in the ovary, by the synthesis of androstenedione from cholesterol. Androstenedione is a substance of weak androgenic activity which serves predominantly as a precursor for more potent androgens such as testosterone as well as estrogen. This compound crosses the basal membrane into the surrounding granulosa cells, where it is converted either immediately into estrone, or into testosterone and then estradiol in an additional step. The conversion of androstenedione to testosterone is catalyzed by 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17β-HSD), whereas the conversion of androstenedione and testosterone into estrone and estradiol, respectively is catalyzed by aromatase, enzymes which are both expressed in granulosa cells. In contrast, granulosa cells lack 17α-hydroxylase and 17,20-lyase, whereas theca cells express these enzymes and 17β-HSD but lack aromatase. Hence, both granulosa and theca cells are essential for the production of estrogen in the ovaries.
Excellent studies and report by David J Handelsman MB BS, FRACP, PhD Director, ANZAC Research Institute & Department of Andrology, Concord Hospital