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iGEM Dundee 2013 · ToxiMop

It was an exciting accomplishment for us to prove, in principle, that our ToxiMop cells really do clean up the algae toxin microcystin. However, we wanted to maximise the impact of our project. For us, this means helping George restore Clatto to its former glory. Therefore, there is a need to commercialise ToxiMop in order to bring it to the masses. Although our time was brief we began exploring the entrepreneurial future of ToxiMop.

Our team visited Scott Brady, the entrepreneur in residence at Dundee University. Scott has built up and sold a number of companies from a variety of sectors. We looked to Scott for advice regarding the business risks associate with our product, as well as, insight into marketing and attracting investment for ToxiMop.

Business Risk Assessment

As scientists lacking any experience in the world of business we had some specific concerns in relation to our ToxiMop. We examined the risks of commercialisation and anticipated ways in which we could mitigate those risks. We wanted to retain an emphasis on the safety of our product despite the demand that investors would have for low costs and high returns. These risks are explored below with our plans to mitigate them.


  1. Genetically engineered Bacteria in the Environment

  2. Through modelling and characterisation of our ToxiMop we discovered that we would need a significantly large number of cells in order to clean up microcystin contaminated water. We can work to minimise this risk by increasing the efficiency of our Mop to reduce the number of cells we need to use. One of the ways we hope to do this is by manipulation of the Tat pathway.

    Since we do not know what effects the products of our E. coli cells will have on the environment, which in some cases may be a reservoir containing potable water, we will need to carry out a number of risk assessments to analyse the safety of the product.

  3. Minimising the risk by devising other applications and products for the ToxiMop brand

  4. When you have a potential product like ours then there is always a risk that after further product development the approach will be found to be unsuitable for the problem. To address this issue we have explored commercialisation other products such as our Moptopus and other applications of our ToxiMop such as targeting other harmful substances like the marine toxin Okadaic Acid . In this way we can divide the risk of our venture by simultaneously following these other avenues.

  5. Intellectual Property (IP)

  6. In keeping with the open source philosophy of the iGEM competition all of our work up until now has been published online. So our ideas are out in the open without any protection. However, what we would aim to do is develop technology for deployment in the environment. These additions to our product will provide an opportunity for patent applications.


To explore investment opportunities for our project we spoke to a representative from Scottish Enterprise (Picture 1). In 2012 Scottish Enterprise pledged to provide up to £6.5 million of funding to encourage businesses to develop industrial applications for synthetic biology. Through this meeting we were made aware of the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept fund which aims to take inventions form the lab into the global marketplace. This fund involves large capital investment as well as assistance in the form of financial advice and networking. In order to achieve our goal of acquiring this funding we believe our project would need to be developed further. There is certainly more work required in the lab to develop ToxiMop into a functional device that can neutralise toxic algal blooms in a real, environmental setting. The investment advice that we were given was that since our project may be of high risk then it might be more appropriate to spread that risk over a number of investors rather than having a large investment from a single source. This minimises the risk for the investor which should work in our favour when we are trying to raise funds.

The initial capital to fund this crucial research could come from an number of angel investors and/or venture capitalists. Angels are affluent individuals who tend to invest their own funds, this is in contrast to venture capitalists who manage the pooled money of others in a professionally-managed fund.

Dundee University Incubator (DUI) is a service providing 12 high quality labs as well as office space for technology based companies. Furthermore, the location of the DUI facilitates easy access to Dundee University facilities. We visited the DUI (Picture 1) and found that it houses a number of biotech groups. It was reassuring for us to see that high quality facilities for nascent companies are available right on our door-step.

Picture 1: John McKenzie (left) manager of the Dundee Incubator with Nicolas Peyret representative of Scottish Enterprise at an event we organised in which we met with local bio-tech start-ups and entrepreneurs.


We believe there is a demand for our product from a variety of sectors and this demand will increase over time as algal blooms become more frequent and increase in intensity due to global warming.

  1. Drinking water

  2. We believe that corporations such as Scottish Water which provides drinking water services for the Scottish public may be interested in purchasing a device that could clean up algae toxins from reservoirs. Additionally, there is a number of private water companies in England that may benefit from such a product.

  3. Recreational

  4. In researching the market for our device we highlighted the tourist industry as a potential customer. For example, in 2011 Lake Erie in the US suffered from the largest algal bloom on record. This threatened the $11.5 Billion/year Ohio tourist industry (1). Since these blooms are projected to become more common due to climate change we believe this market will grow even further in the future. There are other global markets that we could target as algal blooms are regularly affecting other freshwater resources such as Lake Victoria in Africa (2), which is one of the largest lakes in the world. In addition private companies running water sports activities or fisheries at these lakes may be interested in our product.

Other products from the ToxiMop brand

We presented our plans to Peter Mulderry from local biotech company, CXR Biosciences. Drawing from his business experience Peter spoke of the risks of working with a single product. For this reason we have also explored the commercialisation of our electronic environmental sensor the Moptopus. We envisage a time when we can offer a package to customers that will facilitate the real-time monitoring and toxin detection of a water body, using the Moptopus, and based on the data gathered the customer will decide whether to deploy the ToxiMop.

Other applications for ToxiMop: Tapping into other markets.

Another way that we could branch out our business is by looking at different applications for ToxiMop. ToxiMop takes advantage of the binding of PP1 to microcystin in order to remove the toxin from water. However, PP1 also binds to the toxin Okadaic Acid which is produced by marine dinoflagellates. This toxin accumulates in bivalve molluscs such as mussels and is responsible for causing Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning. In June 2013, a human intoxication incident involving mussels sourced from Shetland in Scotland made the national headlines (3). This resulted in the closure of harvesting sites and withdrawal from sale of mussels traced back to these sites. Intoxication events, like this one, could damage public confidence in Scottish mussels. We believe preventing repeat events will have financial benefits for the mussel industry. Targeting the Food industry in Scotland could lead to investment opportunities and also unlock a much larger customer base for our product. The mussel market in Scotland is a prosperous one and has grown in recent years with production of around 1,400t in 1999 increasing to 5,800t in 2008 (4).

To tap into this growing market we would have to ensure that our ToxiMop actually cleans up Okadaic Acid. The human PP1 protein does bind this toxin but we have not yet confirmed, through experimentation, that our ToxiMop cells do.

The possibilities are endless!

We have submitted BioBricks for the signal peptides which target proteins to the periplasm of Gram negative Bacteria, allowing the binding protein better access to the harmful substance. These signal peptides can be used to target other proteins to the periplasmic space. With our company we would aim to explore the use of other mop proteins in order to target other toxins and pollutants.


The profit-making potential of ToxiMop is likely to be substantial. Even given the costs of bringing to market, preserving intellectual ownership and accessing the global market, the product presents the opportunity to create profits which would allow for additional investment as well as a return on capital. Achieving both these aspects means that product integrity can be fortified as well as investors seeing an attractive financial reward for early support. Commercialisation is the critical step towards the fulfilment of our ultimate aim which is to provide affordable technology to neutralise algal bloom toxicity. We hope that one day George at Clatto could use a synthetic biology approach to improve the safety of the water body.

Picture 2: Scott Brady Entrepreneur in residence at Dundee University.

Scott Brady Entrepreneur in residence at Dundee University.

“Having met with the team and interrogated the commercial applicability of the innovation I remain convinced that this idea is a winner. There is a clear appreciation that the vital components of the science must be in place to allow for a market opportunity to be exploited. What marks the ToxiMop out as being different is the strength of the team, the exactitude of the research and the clear desire to see a commercial opportunity being exploited. These are the features that are characteristic of those that appeal to investors. Good products in themselves do not make for successful market opportunities. The correct balance has to be in place that allows the team dynamics to drive the innovation through to a market-ready product that customers will wish to buy at a price that creates profits. ToxiMop passes these tests. The idea shows all of the best features of success in a highly competitive market segment where commercial advantage is taken by those with an early lead. The early success has already been demonstrated.”


  1. STECKER, T. 2013. Algal Blooms May Become the Norm in Lake Erie [Online]. Scientific American. Available: [Accessed 26/10/2013 2103].
  2. REX, E. 2013. Harmful Algal Blooms Increase as Lake Water Warms [Online]. Scientific American. Available: [Accessed 26/10/2013 2013].
  3. 2013. Shetland shellfish sites close after high toxin levels found [Online]. BBC. Available: [Accessed 26/10 20
  4. SCOTT, D., MCLEOD, D., YOUNG, J., BROWN, J., IMMINK, A. & BOSTOCK, J. 2010. A study of the prospects and opportunities for shellfish farming in Scotland. Stirling Aquaculture, Institute of Aquaculture.