Replacing synthetic pigments with natural ones is a growing global trend affecting a large number of fields, such as textile, hair and food dyeing. Many synthetic dyes are toxic for the environment and humans, and they can accumulate in the environment and spoil water bodies. The textile dyeing industry is the second largest polluter of bodies of water in the world.
Our idea for Aalto-Helsinki iGEM 2018 is to use a microbial host to produce environmentally friendly dyes together with dragline spider silk proteins. Dragline silk has exceptional strength and elasticity properties, but since producing recombinant silk fibres is extremely challenging at the moment, we have decided to focus on silk proteins. Silk proteins have interesting properties for coating materials, such as textiles or hair.
The combination of silk proteins and coloured pigments can be used to make prints onto textiles, using natural and environmentally friendly materials. As a hair product, silk proteins attach onto and into the hair keratin, providing improved strength, durability and smoothness. Together with pigment proteins found in corals, we hope to be able to both improve the hair quality, as well as give it a beautiful colour.
The broader purpose of our project is to promote and increase understanding of synthetic biology in Finland and around the world. Synthetic biology is a new field of science and technology that combines biology with engineering principles. The basic principle is to design new genes, genetic devices, metabolic routes and entire organisms to create novel products and production pathways. Standardization is also a key component of this process, which is why one goal of the iGEM competition is to maintain the "BioBrick part registry" - a library of standardized genetic parts.
Synthetic biology has the potential to provide valuable solutions to many of today's problems. However, media and the general public still see genetically modified organisms more as a threat than a potential. We work responsibly and take necessary safety and ethics considerations into account when making decisions and planning laboratory work. We conduct research in such a way that is safe for us and the environment. Our solutions will be tested to be safe also outside the laboratory setting.