The Leicester University students are working on a project to genetically engineer a new organism that will quickly break down polystyrene waste. The team of second-year students, who make up Leicester’s International Genetically Engineered Machine team (iGEM), want to find examples of bacteria which already degrade polystyrene to help them design a more efficient organism.
To help them in the project, they are issuing ‘citizen science’ kits to help with the research. In exchange for a small donation to the project, volunteers will receive a kit containing a piece of polystyrene which they can simply bury in their garden, allotment or plant pot and leave for several months before sending it back to the team in a postage-paid envelope.
The polystyrene pieces will be tested in the lab for traces of microbes that have colonised and might be consuming it. Project leader Christopher Morton, 20, a second year biological sciences undergraduate, said: “The kits are a fun and easy way to get people involved in the experiment.
“The main aim of the experiment is to find the elusive polystyrene degrading microbes. We hope this will get people thinking outside the box to try and place an experimental kit in an unusual place which will result in us finding the microbes.”
Vice project leader Anthony Cox, 21, who also studies biological sciences, said: “Public engagement with this aspect of the project not only gives us a large number of samples from different areas, but also helps us to raise awareness.
“The greatest thing the public will get out of the project will be the satisfaction of knowing they’ve helped out in a project which could ultimately be of great benefit to the environment.”