Professor Angela Belcher was awarded a Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grant for her development of toxin-eating yeast.
“Our plan is to develop environmentally friendly, on-demand biological systems for cleaning up the environment,” says Angela Belcher, who is the James Mason Crafts Professor in biological engineering and materials science and engineering, and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Her idea proposes using the humble yeast cell to act as a multifunctional, even programmable, bioremediation agent to clean up heavy metals and other environmental contaminants.
Belcher plans to design new yeast strains with genes from other organisms that have a natural inclination to ingest heavy metals and other toxins. By altering the yeast genes, Belcher can selectively program what genes to turn on and off. Much like commercially available yeast products, Belcher’s multifunctional yeast would be manufactured, packaged, stored, and shipped to environmentally affected areas as needed. “Our goal is to provide on-demand yeast products that can be used to clean up waste sites — from sources such as mining, manufacturing, agricultural runoff, and chemical disasters — that are easily used, recovered, and disposed of safely,” she adds.
Belcher has a successful history in redirecting natural biological processes for new purposes. Her team has repurposed natural biological agents to develop solar cells and battery technology. “It’s about natural evolution, which we are very good at, and getting biology to work with a new toolkit,” she says. “This grant allows us to take our expertise into a different direction, which is remediation.” -MIT News