Students aim to make new flame retardant for PS using bacteria


July 4, 2013

Leicester, England, university students are aiming to make polystyrene more fire resistant using genetically modified bacteria – creating a new, safer fire retardant.

University of Leicester undergraduates have formed a team to enter this year's International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM), following on from last year's successful entry.

The team hopes to make use of DNA's recently discovered application as a flame retardant to make expanded polystyrene (EPS) less flammable.

In order to produce large amounts of DNA at low costs, the students hope to genetically engineer bacteria to produce much more DNA in their cells than usual.

The DNA-rich bacteria could then be added to the polystyrene to make it less susceptible to burning.

As well as reducing polystyrene flammability, the team hopes to develop a way of recycling polystyrene waste for use in 3D printing, using DNA technology.

They also plan to continue developing genetically modified bacteria to degrade polystyrene waste more effectively — and hope to repeat last year's citizen science experiment through outreach with local schools.

Team instructor Richard Badge, a lecturer in Bioinformatics in the university's department of Genetics, said: "Bacteria are not particularly DNA rich, so we want to engineer the bacteria to contain more DNA. To do this, we are going to use bacteriophages — a virus which infects and replicates inside bacteria. The idea is to engineer bacteria that will produce lots of DNA once we give them the right signal."