Projects

Examples of ongoing research projects related to synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, and industrial biotechnology:

Smart upgrading of biomass by multispecies approach

Lignocellulose represents the major renewable resource for the future production of oleochemicals and bioenergy compounds by biological systems. Challenges related to the recalcitrance and heterogeneity of the biomass restrict its efficient use. This research proposes a novel approach for comprehensive utilization and valorization of lignocellulosic biomass by a microbial production process based on two different species, an oleaginous yeast and a lignin component-utilizing bacterium. The strains are engineered in terms of improved tolerance against the inhibitory compounds present in lignocellulose hydrolysates and more efficient carbon utilization and production of high-value lipid products.  Metabolic engineering strategies and bioprocess engineering are employed to intensify lignocellulose upgrading.

Depolymerization of Lignin and Bioconversion of Lignin-derived monomers to biofuels

The most abundant raw material for future biorefineries will come from lignocellulosic biomass, of which lignin forms a significantly large fraction (~ 25 – 30%). Lignin is a highly recalcitrant, heterogeneous polymer comprised of phenylpropanoid monomers. Currently, lignin is either incinerated to produce heat (power) or gasified to produce syngas. However, the aromatic monomers can also be used as a fermentable substrate to produce liquid biofuels or other valuable chemicals. This project focuses on the conversion of lignin to biofuel via two processes: microbial depolymerisation of lignin and the subsequent conversion of the lignin-derived monomers to biofuels by metabolically-engineered bacterial strains. Moreover, specific assays for detection of lignin-derived molecules and biofuel products will be developed.

Synthetic microbial communities as next-generation cell factories for targeted and efficient lignocellulose valorization

Lignocellulose is the only feasible feedstock for replacing the fossil resources in the production of hydrocarbon commodities. For the structural heterogeneity of lignocellulose, biological conversion is considered as the most promising approach to lignocellulose valorization. However, current systems are inefficient in lignocellulose utilization, resulting in poor process efficiency and economy. The research introduces a new approach to improve the overall process efficiency: a rationally designed and engineered microbial consortium is constructed for robust bioproduction. The reprogrammed consortium can efficiently utilize the lignocellulose fractions for the production of long chain hydrocarbons. To simplify and intensify the product recovery, the hydrocarbon product is collected as easily recoverable form which can be further converted to a variety of biofuel and fine chemical compounds by catalysis.

Converting the surplus of intermittent renewable energy and CO2 to advanced biofuel

Due to the strong dependence of renewable electricity production to environmental conditions (wind, sunshine), strong fluctuations occur in production output. As storing electricity is expensive and inefficient, consistent supply of renewable electricity is very challenging. In this project a new system is developed to exploit the surplus intermittent electricity in production of advanced traffic biofuel using CO2 as a carbon source.

Biosensors

Bacterial biosensors cells combine genetic material from evolutionarily distant species to allow simultaneous measurements of bioavailability of, and the response of the bacterial strain to, different samples. Such samples can include natural extracts or environmental pollutants. Traditional methods for the detection do not consider the bioavailability, and they are often time consuming and labor-intensive. Bacterial biosensor cells are a solution for these problems, making them suitable for high throughput screening applications. In this project, new bacterial biosensor cells and methodologies are developed for varying applications using genetic engineering. The goal is to create biosensor strains and screening protocols that are both user-friendly and reliable.

Upgrading bacterial nanocellulose properties for sensor applications

Due to highly pure, biodegradable and superior physiological nature, bacterial nanocellulose is widely investigated in various research fields, for example in sensor development. Nevertheless, modifications to bacterial nanocellulose structures are vital to improve its sensor properties and current methods include multi-step chemical and mechanical processes. In this project, a new approach is introduced to achieve controlled alterations in bacterial nanocellulose structures with minimal integration steps. Using specific genetic engineering tools, regulation of genes partaking in nanofibril assembly are systematically controlled. The upgraded physiological characteristics in bacterial nanocellulose are studied for improvements in mechano-electrical properties.

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