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Synthetic Biology in Cambridge

[Closes 2 May 2017] Interested in alleviating global poverty using Cambridge synbio ideas? - APPLY for Development i-Teams

Dr James Ajioka and Dr Orr Yarkoni are offering a Development i-Teams project for Easter Term 2017, exploring the potential of their new way of dyeing fabric using engineered microorganisms in India.

Development i-Teams brings together the brightest students and staff and the university's ground-breaking research to develop commercially viable strategies for sustainable development. Last term's projects included a cell-free synthetic biology focus by the hugely successful OpenDiagnostics team and you can read more below for the latest opportunity from SRI Co-Chair Dr James Ajioka and Dr Orr Yarkoni of Colorifix.

The full list of this term’s projects is:

* Exploring the potential of self-healing circuits to address e-waste in the developing world
* Investigating the adoption of a new way of dyeing fabric in India (using synthetic biology)
* Identifying the market challenges of using solar photocatalysis to purify water

Development i-Teams is open to all students (undergraduates and post-graduates), post-docs and staff, anyone with an interest in how technology can make the world a better place for the world's poorest.

The course runs on Tuesday evenings from May 9th to June 13th, with approximately 4 hours of individual work needed each week, mostly involving gathering real-world feedback from experts in international development.  

For more details and to apply for a place on a team, see

For more information about the work of the Centre for Global Equality see 

Investigating the adoption of a new way of dyeing fabric in India 

Researchers: Dr James Ajioka & Dr. Orr Yarkoni, Colorifix
Mentor: TBC

Dyeing is a surprisingly dirty business. Whether they are chemically synthesized or naturally sourced, dyes have a profound impact on the environment. Dye production involves either refining of petrochemicals for chemical synthesis precursors or the extraction of natural pigments using solvents; both are processes that require harmful chemicals and their use carries an environmental impact. The act of dyeing itself also carries a significant environmental impact. Several additives, many of them toxic (such as phenols, formaldehydes and heavy metals) are introduced to the dyeing mix to enhance the deposition and fixation of dyes onto textiles. The textile industry is the third largest consumer of water, using upwards of 9 trillion litres of water a year, 6 trillion of which come from the dyeing and finishing steps. This is because dyeing uses a very high ratio of water to fabric, with 50/1 being common, 30/1 being the norm and 10/1 being considered a substantial achievement. The dye bath is then heated to temperatures exceeding 100C for several hours for the dyeing step to take place. The World Bank estimates that roughly 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dye industry, making it one of the most polluting industries on the planet. The industry standard for waste dye in effluent is 3%, with many dyers failing to meet this standard and paying substantial fines.

Colorifix has developed a whole new way of dyeing fabrics. The scientists who started the company engineered microorganisms so that they produce, deposit and fix dyes directly onto fabrics, using a water/fabric ratio of 3/1 and managing a 1% dye waste in effluent, whilst avoiding the use of any toxic chemicals or solvents. This is possible because the microorganism acts as a microreactor, bringing dyes and ions into close proximity with the fabric. Once the microorganisms are killed, they release their content directly onto the fibres, resulting in efficient, colourfast dyeing.

Some of the areas most affected by the dyeing industries are in emerging economies such as India. In 2016, several dye houses were shut down by the Namami Gange Programme as they were found to produce unacceptably high levels of pollution that was contaminating river water.

The Development i-Team will explore the requirements for commercialisation of the Colorifix technology in India. This is not straightforward, as there are regulatory, governmental, safety, cultural, economic and environmental aspects that must be investigated to establish the feasibility of using a synthetic biology approach in a country with very strict GMO regulations.

Dr. James Ajioka is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pathology, and a member of the Synthetic Biology SRI Committee.