Republic of Poland

UPWr students received a medal for air purification

November 27, 2019

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), Poland is one of the largest heavy metal emitters, and excess lead, cadmium or mercury in the air have severe health effects. UPWr students have invented biological filters based on modified Yarrowia lipolytica yeast, which absorb heavy metals and signal their excessive concentration by turning red and giving off a peach odour.

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The UPWr team which won the bronze medal in Boston
photo: Tomasz Lewandowski

Although attempts have already been made to purify water or soil with the use of yeast, there are still no filters on the global market that use microorganisms to purify the air. Research on such a filter can be a breakthrough in monitoring and combating high concentrations of heavy metals in the air. Students working under the supervision of prof. Zbigniew Lazar have already created a prototype heavy metal sensor, suitable for use in flats. Now the project is entering the phase of creating a filter that will catch out and neutralize harmful substances in the air. It could be installed in, for example, ventilation grates – the air flow would ensure their cleaning.

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Yeast air filter prototype
photo: Tomasz Lewandowski

The importance of microbiological filters for improving the quality of life in the industrialized parts of the world and for combating pollution has been confirmed by a bronze medal that UPWr students brought from Boston. They obtained the funding for the trip from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education – a grant from the "The best of the best!" programme, promoting students’ travel abroad.

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) is an international competition in synthetic biology that takes place every year in Boston. Organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it is one of the most prestigious events for students of biological and engineering sciences. The idea of the competition is to present innovative projects prepared by students from around the world, which use the tools of modern synthetic biology – a discipline combining molecular biology and engineering which creates artificial biological systems modelled on natural ones.

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A trip to Boston for the iGEM competition was financed with a grant from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education
photo: private archive

About 300 teams participate in the competition every year. This year's 12-people team from UPWr was the only team from Poland and the first ever from Wrocław. It consisted of 9 students from three research clubs: SKN (Student Research Club) Bioinformatics, SKN Biotechnologists and SKN OrgChem – as well as three scientific supervisors. Here they are:

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Professor Zbigniew Lazar – Project Supervisor
Leader of the Leading Research Team Biotechnology for Life and Industry (BioTech@Life)
Department of Biotechnology and Food Microbiology

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Kamila Liman – team leader and coordinator of the efforts to obtain finance for the trip to Boston, biotechnology student, member of SKN OrgChem

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Klaudia Bukowiec – biotechnology student, SKN Biotechnologists

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Patryk Józefiak – biotechnology student, chairman of SKN Biotechnologists

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Sylwia Kawalec – biotechnology student, SKN Biotechnologists

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Jagoda Pierścińska (third from the left) – student of bioinformatics, SKN Bioinformatics

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Agata Rot – biotechnology student, SKN Biotechnologists

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Dawid Słomian – student of bioinformatics, SKN Bioinformatics

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Patrycja Sokalska – biotechnology student, SKN Biotechnologists

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Patryk Surmacz – student of biotechnology, SKN Biotechnologists

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Piotr Hapeta – PhD student of prof. Zbigniew Lazar, project supervisor

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Tadeusz Witkowski – PhD student of prof. Zbigniew Lazar, project supervisor