Press Release

Roddenberry Foundation Gives $5 Million to J. Craig Venter Institute for Sustainable Wastewater Treatment Technology Development

LA JOLLA, CA—July 10, 2013—The J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit genomic research organization, today announced that the Roddenberry Foundation has awarded JCVI scientist Orianna Bretschger, Ph.D., a $5 million dollar grant to continue her research into new wastewater treatment technologies. The five year grant will support the development of Bretschger’s BioElectrochemical Sanitation Technology (BEST), which uses microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to clean wastewater and improve sanitation and water accessibility in developing world applications. 

“We are pleased to have the Roddenberry Foundation providing such generous support for this important research program,” said J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., JCVI Founder and CEO. “Over the last several years Orianna and her lab have been making important progress on her microbial fuel cell technology. Philanthropic support like this will enable her to advance this technology faster and further than expected so that we can develop economical, effective and sustainable wastewater treatment systems for people who need them most.”

Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, President of The Roddenberry Foundation, stated, “Dr. Bretschger’s MFC sustainable wastewater treatment project is exactly the type of innovative, field-changing research that fits our mission. Her use of microbes to convert human waste into clean water and electricity is another step toward making disease a thing of the past. Her work also moves us closer to a future where all humankind's most basics needs are not just met but abundantly supplied. In the world of “Star Trek,” technology offers a catalyst to the natural world in making amazing things possible.”

The need for modern sanitation systems is still very great since today approximately 2.5 billion people, or 35% of the world’s population, do not have access to proper sanitation. As a result, one child dies every 17 seconds due to the lack of sanitation, unclean water and poor hygiene. Even in developed countries such as the United States, untreated wastewater routinely finds its way into our water supply, harming aquatic systems and causing illness in people.

Dr. Bretschger, an Assistant Professor in JCVI’s Microbial and Environmental Genomics Group, recognized the challenges of global sanitation and began to research the use of MFCs to create environmentally sustainable wastewater treatment systems. Her team has been working to understand the microbial mechanisms and natural microbial communities that are associated with MFC wastewater treatment; and apply these findings to practical applications. These efforts have already led to the successful treatment of municipal wastewater and sewage sludge at the 100-gallon per-day scale, enough to support a small household.

Microbes in MFCs use the organic matter in sewage and other wastewaters, as fuel. As the microbes breakdown down this organic matter, they produce electrons, which are the basic units of electricity. The rapid movement of electrons across a microbial fuel cell circuit accelerates the microbial breakdown of the organics in addition to producing electricity, and results in fewer treatment byproducts like sludge.

Bretschger commented, “Working with the Roddenberry Foundation gives us a tremendous opportunity to improve sanitation and water quality issues in developing nations. With this grant we can expand and apply what we have learned about fundamental microbial processes toward the development of integrated MFC systems that can provide reliable and cost-effective wastewater treatment. Not only are we working to develop a technology, but also an implementation plan that will hopefully propel technology adoption and extend the positive impact of this generous award for decades to come.”

Bretschger’s lab has also been supported by Synthetic Genomics Inc., the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the California State Public Interest Energy Research Energy Innovations Small Grant program, and the San Diego Foundation Blasker Science and Technology award.

For more information on how to support the genomics research programs at JCVI, contact Katie Collins, 858-200-1847.

About the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI)

The JCVI is a not-for-profit research institute in Rockville, MD and San Diego, CA dedicated to the advancement of the science of genomics; the understanding of its implications for society; and communication of those results to the scientific community, the public, and policymakers. Founded by J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., the JCVI is home to approximately 250 scientists and staff with expertise in human and evolutionary biology, genetics, bioinformatics/informatics, information technology, high-throughput DNA sequencing, genomic and environmental policy research, and public education in science and science policy. The legacy organizations of the JCVI are: The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), The Center for the Advancement of Genomics (TCAG), the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA), the Joint Technology Center (JTC), and the J. Craig Venter Science Foundation. The JCVI is a 501 (c)(3) organization. For additional information, please visit http://www.JCVI.org.

About The Roddenberry Foundation

The Roddenberry Foundation was established in 2010 by Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, son of legendary Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry. Its mission is to benefit humanity through the development and application of innovative technological advances. Together with the Foundation’s Directors, Advisory Board and staff, Rod pursues the goal of turning science fiction into science fact by providing critical support to leading-edge organizations around the world working in the areas of science and technology, the environment, education and humanitarian advances. For more information, please visit http://roddenberryfoundation.org.

Media Contact

Heather Kowalski