Meanwhile Back at the Farm: SMART Team Turns Microbial Engineering Green

Out of the green-minded efforts of a research team in Singapore, we may all soon be enjoying commercial access to reusable genetic engineering materials.
Dana  Miller
Developments in microbial engineering will help Singapore, and other nations around the world, farm more fruitfully in urban areas.Source: fotografixx/iStock

Genetic engineering has just gone green. Urban farming practices around the world will benefit from findings made by SMART, Singapore's MIT arm. In conjunction with the National University of Singapore (NUS), a fascinating new technology that can rapidly engineer the microbes needed for chemicals requisite to successful urban farming has been developed. 


Casually referred to as "near-scarless plasmid construction," this procedure is every bit as cool as it sounds being that it uses preconceived DNA assembly methods, but with the twist of not only making the methodologies more cost-effective, efficient, and precise but also more sustainable too.

How do you make genetic engineering greener?

The SMART Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) is tasked with evolving mechanizations specifically aimed at making Singapore less dependent on external agricultural resources. As an island city-state largely indebted to imported fruits and vegetables, urban farming in Singapore is much more than a fashionable hobby. Learn more about how microbial engineering has lent itself to answers in other global challenges by watching this video.


SMART's unit dedicated explicitly to the development of groundbreaking sustainability automations is called DiSTAP - Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision. Led by DiSTAP's lead investigator, Kang Zhou, with support from Xiaoqiang Ma, a postdoctoral researcher, new methods of microbial fermentation were under active study when this breakthrough was made.

Zhou and Ma specifically set out to find a means via small molecules for creating non-synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and plant nutrients that might help Singapore's urban farmers toward a more productive yield. Their attempted means of achieving this end focused on generating a technology that would circumnavigate the long wait times associated with customized materials, and that would eliminate the massive amounts of waste contingent per an estimated minuscule 1% of material used by enabling genetic engineers to reuse materials associated with genetic engineering.

GT technology sounds turbo and it is

As the SMART scientists developed a Guanine/Thymine (GT) DNA assembly method that classifies all biological components as standard DNA components, production of standardized materials achieved an accuracy increase that approached 90%, a marked improvement considering that methods with any degree of similar accuracy can only stitch two parts to a DNA whereas the GT method has the capability to stitch seven parts to a DNA.

Microbial manufacturing may hold the future of sustainable urban farming.
Source: Sinhyu/iStock

This all means that time and costs associated with fermentation processes needed for green chemicals just dropped astronomically for everyone, not just Singapore and not just urban farmers. The SMART team recognizes that this new procedure applies to all genetic engineering fields and are currently in search of ways to make it rapidly accessible for commercialization in disciplines outside agriculture.

Perhaps the hippest piece of all is the way these researchers plan to distribute the genetic materials they cull in this new way, which is through the equally new concept of the world's very first e-commerce platform dedicated to reusable genetic engineering materials. The team is actively working on this innovative distribution method as of press time. Look out, Amazon. 

Most Popular