Edge of Innovation

Fighting against pollution with drones

The iGEM IONIS team of students is tackling pollution using a drone. Named Quantifly, it detects pollution with the help of bacteria that it carries into the air.

Quantifly is a drone armed with bacteria for fighting against pollution in towns and cities. The device was designed by iGEM IONIS, a team of students from five different institutions (Sup’Biotech, the School of Technology and Management [STM], Epitech, EPITA and IPSA). The drone has already won the gold medal at the biggest synthetic biology competition in the world, the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition, organized by MIT in Boston.

This drone-based project aims to detect, quantify and map atmospheric pollution. To do this, Quantifly takes to the skies with bacteria that have been genetically modified to detect the specific traces of airborne pollutants. These biosensors use bioluminescence to deliver quicker and more reliable results. “I did a work experience placement in bioluminescence at the end of 2015, which we followed up with a weekend of brainstorming,” explains Clément Lapierre, student at Sup’Biotech and project manager of the iGEM IONIS team. “This is where we came up with the idea of using bioluminescence to measure the concentration of atmospheric pollutants.”

The 3D-printed drone was designed to contain bacteria securely and transport them into the air, essentially operating as a mobile detection platform. The machine can take samples from areas that people would not ordinarily be able to access.

The precise air pollution data collected will be useful for our safety, as well as for helping us to deal with the source of pollution. The drone and its biosensors are already being used to detect certain pollutants, but Quantifly will be developed further to track other pollutants before being released commercially.

Cécile Dard

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