Ideas so far

Uranium bioremediation/ biosensor Chirs F mentioned the need for a uranium biosensor earlier today. I had a look into this and discovered an article on a new sensitive uranium biosensor was published earlier this year, PNAS: A catalytic beacon sensor for uranium with parts-per-trillion sensitivity and millionfold selectivity, 104(7), p2056 (2007), which rules out the need for a biological uranium biosensor. However before this discovery, we had the idea of engineering a synthetic receptor (due to the lack of specific heavy metal binding proteins present in literature), based on the success one group had in altering the binding site of calmodulin to bind metals other than calcium. Environmental chemistry (2005) p133-143

Another idea was the decontamination of toxic waste produced by nuclear power plants, to reduce the storage volume required for toxic waste. There appears to be several groups researching this area at the moment, and several have published articles on the conversion of uranium and other heavy metals to insoluble metal phosphates or reduced states, which can easily be separated out.

A third idea was to remove uranium and other heavy metal contamination from soils surrounding nuclear power plants, industry and areas where nuclear weapons/ depleted uranium have been in use. This would involve engineering plants to uptake uranium from the soil, then being harvested and safely disposed - have not yet looked into this idea in much detail as we weren't sure of the feasiblity of working with plants.

Drug synthesis Kim mentioned taxol, an anticancer drug, which is extracted from the pacific yew tree or semisynthesised from european yew needle extracts, at a cost of $6000 per treatment. Other natural drugs that are expensive to produce include cyclosporin and rapamycin, which are used as immunosuppressants.

Tackling MRSA MRSA is becoming a major health problem within our hospitals, with the number of deaths rising from 148 in 1993 to over 500 in 1999. There are several natural compounds that have been discovered, which lower the resistance of MRSA to antibiotics, enabling its irradication. Epicatechin gallate and totarol both inhibit the penicillin binding protein, and lower the resistance of MRSA to methicillin. Is it plausable to engineer bacteria, which synthesis and release these two molecules within air conditioning systems and other hard to clean areas?

Illegal Drugs Detection Biosensor that will detect the presence of illegal substances and their relative concentration in blood and other dubious samples.

Extremophile E. coli Generate an artificial plasmid, encoding proteins and enzymes to enable E. coli to survive under extreme conditions, such as high temperatures, extreme pH's or under pressure

An alternative take on this idea is to design a vector that will enable extremophiles to survive under 'normal' growth conditions to make them easier to work with in the laboratory. For example extremophiles such as Spirochaeta americana are extremally fragile when removed from their natural environment and cannot survive for long under laboratory conditions.

Programmed cell death One of the main problems with releasing GM organisms into the environment is their ability to persist and interbreed with non GM organisms of the same species. One idea was to generate E. coli which could only divide for a certain number of generations before dying, removing its self from the ecosystem. There are several genus's of bacteria which have linear genomes, including Borrelia and Steptomycetes and an artificial E. coli linear genome.

Self flavouring yoghurt Idea is to create lactobacilli or acidophillus which are capable of flavouring as well as producing yoghurt, to cut down on the number of steps required in yoghurt production. Could have a multitude of colours and flavours engineered into the bacteria, such as the traditional strawberry, chocolate and banana and the less common mint, jaffa cake and coffee.

Bioremediation There are many areas of the world with contaminated soils, such as Chile, which has problems with the heavy metals antimony, copper and arsenic. There are already several bioremediation tools avaliable on the market to remove heavy metal contamination, but these do not have an output system to tell you whether they have done their job. One idea was to create plants that bioilluminesce to make the harvesting of plants which have adsorbed an acceptable level of heavy metals easier. Another was to create micro-organisms that aggregate together for easy removal, once they have adsorbed an acceptable level of heavy metals.

Bacterial Blood With the problems present with blood transfusions and blood shortages, would it be possible to produce bacterial blood? Would it be easiest to produce just type O blood type, which can be used by all recipients, or to create a full range of blood types. Also sterlie production of blood would reduce the risk of people contracting blood bourne diseases from unhealthy donors.

Bacterial Insulin Sensor - for those afraid of needles Why inject your self with insulin, when you could have a bacterial colony living under your skin that monitors blood sugar levels and releases the correct levels of insulin in response.