The team conducted integrated human practices at various stages. We interacted accordingly with stakeholders and experts to fine-tune our solution. This section shows how our team responded to our human practices’ reflections, research, and/or engagement. It also shows how our activities impacted our project purpose, design and/or execution.


We had a fruitful discussion with head geologists at the Minerals Commission of Ghana; perhaps one of the most invaluable integrated human practices that we had. One of the many people we had the chance of having a one-on-one session with was Mr. Kwesi Nyantakyi (Head of Monitoring and Evaluation). He is the chief geologist and has worked with numerous large and small mining companies in Ghana (including AngloGold Ashanti). Initially our plan of deploying our biosensor was in the form of a spray (utilizing a drone). The handler would spray it on the surface of the ground and detect the pathfinder elements – as the sensor would glow a particular color to signal the presence of a pathfinder. We were advised to have a means of allowing the biosensor to reach lower into the ground – ideally 3 meters deep. However, for a prototype, if we could go 30 centimeters deep, that would be an achievement. This mode of gold detection is more preferred because most pathfinder elements will be found underneath the immediate layer of earth. We incorporated all this feedback by considering: (I) Compression of the bacteria inside a straw-like material and inserting it into the soil, to ensure it has depth coverage. (II) The stake design would incorporate thorns that stir the soil to increase the surface area and make the soil porous for better detection (inspired by rose stems with thorns).



The team met with a Golden Star employee from the Exploratory Division. Golden Star is the 5th largest mining company in Ghana. We pitched our project background, solution, and safety factors to her [Ms. Jennifer Oheneba]. Afterwards, she gave us very helpful feedback that we had not considered before. This was that: Inasmuch as the stake prototype sounded very feasible and innovative, it would not be ideal for all areas. Some mining sites would possess very hard rock, which would make it utterly impossible to plunge the stake into. That notwithstanding, the stake would be most ideal for the green-field stages (pre-exploration) and areas that are easy to penetrate.


As a team, we wanted to understand the mining sector through the eyes of local miners; hence, we contacted Asanko Gold Mine. Asanko mine resides in a different city in Ghana [Kumasi]. As the team is made up of students from both Accra and Kumasi, this was to our advantage. We spoke to Mr. Obed Antwi, the Safety and Environmental Engineer from Asako Gold Mine, and to a former galamseyer on how they extract gold. Galamseyers are illegal miners (they do not have official permits to mine). Due to the many risk factors associated with the mining site (including large pits), full access to the mining areas was restricted for us. At the end of our interaction with Asanko, we discovered that we had to redefine the accessibility of our product. How can we say we are fully addressing the issues of mining, both socially and environmentally, if we are not considering illegal miners? The team brainstormed and came up with the idea of preventing our products from falling into the wrong hands. The product should support all ranks of miners. The biosensor will ensure reduced expenses for larger mining companies and will also prevent environmental degradation by smaller mining companies. Finally, we will ensure that the stake can legally be used by only established mining companies. Only individuals with permits from Lands Commission Ghana, can use it. If the sensor is very effective, it will influence illegal miners to join legal companies for a chance to use such a productive tool.


iGEM’s Safety and Biosecurity Grant was awarded to 5 iGEM teams this year. Team AshesiGhana was one of the recipients. Our plans for safeguarding our project stood out to the committee and they provided us with this grant. We met with Tessa Alexanian (Safety & Security Program Officer) to speak about ways to reinforce the project’s safety. She gave us some questions to answer and send to her. It was through the process of reflecting on our safety strategy to provide answers, that we began to chart a more feasible course to achieve them. Our first safety level was to develop a hydrogel (capsule structure) that prevents bacteria from entering the environment. However, while the membrane does not allow the bacteria in the environment, it allows the minerals of interest (i.e., iron, arsenic, and gold) to enter the hydrogel. We thought about how to upscale production to billions of stakes, and we were advised that we could talk to stakeholders and manufacturers as part of outreach.


We invited the Engineers & Planners company representatives to Ashesi University. The main aim was to present our project progress thus far and obtain feedback from them. They are a leading indigenous Mining and Construction company in the West Africa sub-region. E&P's main service areas include Mining, Construction & Civil Works, and Consulting Services. The presentation we conducted included the team's current projects and our future goals. Following the presentation, they provided inquiries, recommendations, and contributions. Mr. Erskine suggested excavating the stake hole before placing the stake. He asked that we use a pencil-shaped pounding pestle to make holes. Secondly, he implied that the stake should be separated into buried and exposed pieces. As a possible investor, he would like to view a cross-section of the stake before and after gold is found. Another concept was a flap (likened to a plunger design). This retains the stake in place while enabling the other end to go into the soil, producing an airy habitat for the bacteria and assuring enough soil coverage for detection. He advised us to investigate how our product operates in the rain. Given Ghana's major and minor seasons, they were curious to see how the stakeholders in the rainy season. They also wanted us to consider our product's reusability. We could detach the UV kill switch of the stake and reattach it as needed, thus reducing cost. All this feedback was instrumental in providing a better product to address our project’s needs.


The evolution of the development of the bio-stake design within which the hydrogels(more about this in the safety section) are placed is highlighted below: