Authors

Adi Briskin, Rohini Josh, Katherine Song, Meera Kumar, Jenny Yu , Aparna Shanmugam, Anusha Handa, and Gabriella Castro-Rovira

Mentors

Lindsey L’Ecuyer

Affiliations

Andover High School, Andover, MA, USA

Abstract

We plan to make an eco-friendly, fire-resistant polymer using itaconic acid and 9, 10 -dihydro-9-oxa-10- phosphaphenanthrene 10-oxide (EDA-DOPO), and a hardener. Itaconic acid is currently made by the fungus Aspergillus terreus. We can synthetically produce this by isolating the gene that produces it and putting it into yeast cells. This would then be combined with EDA-DOPO and a hardener to produce the final product, a novel version of the polymer EADI. Our variant of EADI would be an organic & non-toxic epoxy resin, so it would be much less harmful. It would also degrade much faster than traditional plastics. As a result, this polymer could be integrated in everyday life in place of other fire-resistant polymers that can cause a multitude of health problems for users.

Keywords

polymer, eco-friendly, itaconic acid, Aspergillus terreus, plastic, yeast, bio-polymer

Background

Our team, the Incredibuilders have endeavored during the past year to discover a non-toxic and environmentally friendly  polymer. Nearly all of the fire-resistant resins, polymers, and epoxies available today are toxic and can cause long-term health problems. When these are thrown away, they also wreak havoc on the environment as they can take centuries to decompose. Our team felt that a more natural approach might be key to making fire retardant products more environment- and household-friendly.

Systems Level

Our system would consist of yeast cells that would be able to produce a key ingredient for the creation of our final fire resistant polymer. In theory we would grow a large amount of genetically modified yeast, which would allow us to produce large quantities of itaconic acid, which would then be used for making the polymer.


Device Level

The genetically modified yeast would be kept in a nurturing environment where they would receive an input of nutrients and elements such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen which it would then use to produce a desired output of itaconic acid.


Parts Level 

Itaconic acid is made by a soil-dwelling fungus, A. Terreus, so we would need to isolate its specific gene sequence and then insert that DNA into the yeast cells. The resources made available to the yeast in the aforementioned controlled environment would be processed by each cell to produce itaconic acid.

Safety

This experiment seems to be very safe, as many of its parts have already been used or tested. However, the most important concern is the chemical hardener, which can be toxic or have harmful fumes. This would probably be addressed in a similar fashion to other potentially dangerous chemicals: proper ventilation and protection

Discussions  

In conclusion our project will result in a non-toxic, eco-friendly polymer produced using genetically modified yeast cells.

Acknowledgements

The Incredibuilders team would like to acknowledge our club leader and supervisor, Ms. L'Ecuyer.

References

Chen, Shanshan, et al. “Organic/Inorganic Flame Retardants Containing Phosphorus, Nitrogen and Silicon: Preparation and Their Performance on the Flame Retardancy of Epoxy Resins as a Novel Intumescent Flame Retardant System.” Materials Chemistry and Physics, Elsevier, 2 Dec. 2013, 

Ma, SongQi, et al. “Synthesis and Properties of Phosphorus-Containing Bio-Based Epoxy Resin from Itaconic Acid.” SpringerLink, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 23 Nov. 2013, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11426-013-5025-3. 

University of Minnesota, Department of Environmental Health & Safety. “Aspergillus Terreus.”Aspergillus Terreus, www.dehs.umn.edu/iaq_fib_fg_gloss_aspergillusterreus.htm.