More money is being distributed to noteworthy projects in the name of Gene Roddenberry.
This time, it's a $5 million grant to the J. Craig Venter Institute, a not-for-profit genomic research organization that will now have more financial resources to continue its research into new wastewater treatment technologies. All thanks to the Roddenberry Foundation.
Leading that project is scientist Orianna Bretschger, who is now on her own five-year mission to support the development of Bretschger's BioElectrochemical Sanitation Technology, or BEST, which uses microbial fuel cells to clean wastewater and improve sanitation and water accessibility in developing world applications.
"Over the last several years, Orianna and her lab have been making important progress on her microbial fuel cell technology," said J. Craig Venter, the founder and chief executive of JCVI, in a release. "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."
Rod Roddenberry, the president of the Roddenberry Foundation, said the sustainable wastewater treatment project is innovative and field-changing, which fits the foundation of his 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," Roddenberry said in a release. "Her work also moves us closer to a future where all humankind's most basic 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 quite large as 2.5 billion people -- or 35 percent of the world's population -- do not have access to proper sanitation, according to the Foundation. As a result, one child dies every 17 seconds due to the lack of sanitation, unclean water and poor hygiene.
Even in the United States, untreated wastewater can wreak havoc on the ecosystem and cause illness in many people.
Bretschger's team has been working to understand the microbial mechanisms and natural microbial communities that are associated with MFC wastewater treatment, and apply those 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.
These microbes use the organic matter in sewage as fuel. As they break it down, they produce electrons -- the basic units of electricity. The rapid movement of electrons across a microbial fuel cell accelerates the microbial breakdown of the organics in addition to producing electricity, and results in fewer treatment byproducts like sludge, which becomes difficult to dispose of in large quantities.
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.
JCVI, which has labs in both Rockville, Md., and San Diego, is home to nearly 250 scientists and staff with expertise in human and evolutionary biology, genetics, bioinformatics/informatics, information technology, high-thoroughput DNA sequencing, genomic and environmental policy research, and public education in science and science policy.
More can be found on the institute's website by visiting JCVI.org.
The Roddenberry Foundation was founded in 2010 with a mission to benefit humanity through the development and application of innovative technological advances. Roddenberry, with the help of the Foundation's directors, advisory board and staff, 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 on the Roddenberry Foundation, visit RoddenberryFoundation.org.