Austin Wang

2015 Global Environment Challenge, Grand Prize Winner

Han Jie (Austin) Wang (Han-Jie Wang), a student from David Thompson Secondary School in Vancouver, BC has won the 2015 Global Environment Challenge, a competition for high school students who demonstrate an exemplary understanding of industrial and environmental biotechnology through science research projects. Fourteen students from the U.S., Canada and Germany competed in this year’s Challenge. Austin received an award of $7,500.

Winners were announced Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at the keynote luncheon at the 2015 BIO International Convention, the largest global event for the biotechnology industry.

Austin’s project titled, “Identifying Genes with Roles in Power Output of Exoelectrogenic Bacteria in Microbial Fuel Cells” won him the challenge.

Students were evaluated on the quality of their research and display, their responses to questions demonstrating their scientific knowledge, and the potential commercial applications of their research.

Please see below for more information regarding Austin’s project.


Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are batteries powered by bacteria. In this project, a novel procedure was used to identify genes that help bacteria improve their ability to generate electricity in MFCs. The results of this study may eventually contribute to the commercialization of MFC technology by improving the performance of MFCs.


In this study, a novel procedure was used to identify genes with roles in enhancing extracellular electron transport (EET) of exoelectrogenic bacteria in microbial fuel cells (MFCs). An E. coli fosmid library constructed from microorganisms in a bioreactor fed with metal contaminated water was incubated into dual-chamber, batch operated MFCs. The MFCs incubated with the fosmid clones performed significantly better than the MFCs incubated with an E. coli DH5α control strain, generating almost 4 times more peak power in a 48 hour incubation period. Biofilm and anolyte samples were extracted from the MFCs after incubation and individual clones were isolated. Incubation with the isolated clones revealed four clones with significant improvements in power output over the control strain. Polarization curves of the clones reveal performance enhancements in different current regions in the MFCs. A sequencing library was built from the fosmid insert of clones with enhanced performance, and sequenced on the MiSEQ platform (Illumina). Analysis of the proteins encoded by the open reading frames (ORFs) of the inserts revealed the presence of type IV Pilus, cytochrome c, and metabolic proteins identified in previous studies to play roles in EET, as well as numerous novel candidate proteins that may play roles in enhancing bacterial EET. The results of this study demonstrate that using a gain of function approach to rapidly screen a wide array of genes in gene libraries may be an efficient and feasible method to identify genes that enhance EET of exoelectrogenic microbes in MFCs.