AlcoPatch: Manchester iGEM Team plan to develop a device that tracks ethanol concentration in sweat

Who are we?

Manchester iGEM 2016

We are a group of 10 undergraduate students based in Manchester Institute of Biotechnology participating in a synthetic biology competition – International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM). Our team consists of undergraduates studying biology related degrees who will lead the experimental research of this project. We also have students studying engineering, physics and maths, who are in-charge of mathematical modelling and web designing. There is also a linguist undergraduate that excels in outreach and human practice collaborations. The diversity of nationalities in the team is a unique characteristic of our team.13735602_212636905799083_9009806099328167020_o

About This Project

Blood alcohol and sweat alcohol levels are linearly correlated. Currently, an affordable, discreet and portable way to easily track blood alcohol concentration reliably is not available. So, we plan to develop a device that tracks ethanol concentration in sweat; the ‘AlcoPatch’. This solution could increase self-awareness, encourage responsible drinking and reduce undesired consequences of being drunk. We will be engineering E.coli to detect ethanol and respond with a visible colour change.

You can follow the progress of the Manchester iGEM Team on their Facebook page:

What is the context of this research?

‘2.5 million people drank more than 14 units of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day’ – as quoted in Office for National Statistics (2014). After noticing that drinking is a problem not just in Manchester but also in the rest of the UK, Manchester iGEM team began research on various methods of measuring alcohol intoxication. We then realised that a cheap and reliable product was not easily available. In line with synthetic biology, we decided to design our ‘AlcoPatch’.

We feel this will appeal to audiences from all walks of life as the patch could be something to enjoy and also be useful. Furthermore, people could conceal the device with ease to avoid any embarrassment.

What is the significance of this project?

Quite often, people are unaware of how much alcohol they have consumed, leading to uncontrolled consumption. What is needed is a simple, cheap and easy way of detecting how much they have drunk. Currently the standard device for this is the ‘breathalyzer’ which is big, bulky and expensive. People can purchase disposable breathalyzers online, but they are often unreliable or very costly.

We are researching a new method which uses a person’s sweat to detect blood-ethanol concentration. The biological compounds in the AlcoPatch will react with the ethanol present in a person’s sweat, causing a color change. Our ‘ÁlcoPatch’ would be an affordable, personal intoxication awareness tool. Our ambition would be to make this device easily accessible to everyone around the world.

What are the goals of the project?

We aim to use two different mechanisms to build our AlcoPatch. The first is a cell-free system that utilises purified protein extracts. The second mechanism is an inducible gene switch that revolves around the manipulation of E.coli to express coloured proteins (chromoproteins) based on ethanol concentrations.

To achieve these aims, we use an array of laboratory techniques: fluorescence imaging and quantification, protein expression and purification, DNA cloning, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) etc.

You can follow the progress of the Manchester iGEM Team on their Facebook page: