Biotechnology

Innovation is crucial to fulfil the potential of industrial biotechnology for sustainable production of fuels, chemicals, materials, food and feed. Similarly, scientific and technological advances in environmental biotechnology are needed to enable novel approaches to water purification, and ‘waste-to-product’ processes thus contributing to a circular economy. Increased fundamental knowledge encompassing enzymes, microorganisms and processes are essential for progress in this field. The Department of Biotechnology covers this research area and, based on new insights, selects, designs and tests new biobased catalysts, micro-organisms, and processes.

The department encompasses five research sections:

News

News

04 December 2020

In Memoriam: Prof.dr.ir. Herman van Bekkum (1932 – 2020)

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing away of our esteemed professor emeritus Herman van Bekkum on 30 November 2020. Herman van Bekkum was Rector Magnificus of Delft University of technology from 1975 to 1976 and worked at TU Delft from 1955 to 1998. During this time, he worked for Shell for a brief period between 1959 and 1961, but he ultimately chose to make TU Delft his home, and a very successful choice that was. After his retirement in 1998 he remained active in our faculty for many years, both within Chemical Engineering and the catalysis community. He meant a lot to the university, especially to the Faculty of Applied Sciences. Herman van Bekkum was a versatile chemist with a near limitless zest for work. He made major contributions to science, especially in the field of catalytic applications of zeolites and ordered mesoporous materials and non-food applications of sugars. More importantly, his infectious enthusiasm conveyed his love of organic chemistry to colleagues and students alike, and enabled him to inspire great achievements in them. This quality was rewarded in 1996 when TU Delft named him a Professor of Excellence. Herman van Bekkum always sought co-operation with industry, and managed to secure extensive funding that he could put towards satisfying his enormous creativity and curiosity. He performed various managerial positions within and beyond TU Delft. Within TU Delft he served as Rector Magnificus in the 1975-1976 academic year, and beyond the confines of the university his positions included that of president of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (KNCV). From 1995, he was a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), an important academic distinction. In 1980, he was appointed an honorary member of the Technologisch Gezelschap (TG) study association. Enthusiasm, enormous commitment, efficiency in an environment that sometimes verged on the chaotic, and great mental speed and agility characterised his unique personality. Staff members at the faculty of Applied Sciences often had their work cut out keeping up with him in the corridors. And he never failed to track down the exact documents he needed in his crammed study. Herman van Bekkum will be in our memory always, a memory that will be cherished by all at the faculty who had the pleasure of meeting him or working with him. Our sincerest condolences go out to his family. Paulien Herder, ChemE Departmental Director

01 December 2020

Best Bioengineering MSc Graduate 2020: Nemo Andrea!

“An outstandingly talented biophysicist who seamlessly combines deep biological knowledge with a strong ability for physical abstraction and numerical analysis.” This is how supervisors Marileen Dogterom and Arjen Jakobi (Applied Sciences, Bionanoscience) describe MSc Applied Physics graduate Nemo Andrea. With his thesis “Actin-Microtubule crosstalk studied by cryo electron microscopy” (graded 9.5), Nemo has won Delft Bioengineering Institute’s BEI MSc Graduate Award 2020, comprising of a €1000 personal cash prize. Runners up are MSc Nanobiology graduate Christos Gogou (second prize, €500) and MSc Life Science and Technology graduate Allison Wolder (third prize, €250). Cytoskeleton ‘Actin-microtubule crosstalk’ refers to the functional interactions that exist between these two cytoskeletal systems in living cells. An increasing number of molecular crosslinkers responsible for these interactions are being identified, but detailed mechanistic knowledge on how they connect cytoskeletal filaments is missing. Such knowledge is of great importance for efforts that aim to engineer artificial cells with active cytoskeletal networks from the bottom up. Cryo-EM Taking advantage of recent advances in cryo-electron microscopy, Nemo set out to visualize the architecture of microtubule-actin filament interactions in the presence of an engineered crosslinker. These high-resolution images give valuable insight into how these two filaments affect each other’s dynamic properties, something that was phenotypically observed before with fluorescence microscopy, but not understood at the structural level. In addition, Nemo explored new artificial intelligence methods to reduce the noise level of his cryo-EM images, and independently adapted the algorithm to improve its performance. While the data are too preliminary in terms of statistics to be immediately publishable, the results obtained are completely novel and important for future research in this field. Runners-up Excellent Master thesis work was done as well by runners-up Christos Gogou and Allison Wolder. A short description of their research can be found below. Overall, Delft Bioengineering Institute was impressed by the quality of the ten reports that were submitted, and had a very hard time making a selection. We want to thank all students for their outstanding efforts, and their supervisors for composing their nominations. We hope 2021 will see the start of a second five-year term for the institute, so we can continue to stimulate promising research in the field of bioengineering. BEI Best MSc Graduate Awards 2020 Nemo Andrea – “Actin-Microtubule crosstalk studied by cryo electron microscopy” Supervisors: Marileen Dogterom and Arjen Jakobi (Applied Sciences, Bionanoscience) Taking advantage of recent advances in cryo-electron microscopy, Nemo set out to visualize the architecture of microtubule-actin filament interactions in the presence of an engineered crosslinker. In addition, Nemo explored new artificial intelligence methods to reduce the noise level of his cryo-EM images, and independently adapted the algorithm to improve its performance. Christos Gogou – “Constructing a cryo-EM assay for molecular voltage-sensitivity of liposome-reconstituted membrane proteins” Supervisor: Dimphna Meijer (Applied Sciences, Bionanoscience) Christos bioengineered a novel assay to test if neuronal proteins are sensitive to voltage fluctuations. More specifically, he designed lipid-based vesicles that can be tuned to any membrane potential of choice. Neuronal membrane proteins can then be inserted in these vesicles and visualized at high resolution by cryo-electron microscopy. This assay mimics the action potential of neurons in vitro. Allison Wolder – “Scaling up ene reductase-catalysed selective asymmetric hydrogenation” Supervisor: Caroline Paul (Applied Sciences, Biotechnology) Allison worked on scaling up an incredible enzymatic reaction: hydrogenation. This is notoriously difficult to do, and it requires exploration of the mechanism of the enzyme and its stability. She carried out her thesis in the front seat, thinking outside of the box, suggesting new approaches, making new connections with external companies. The presentation and report were of excellent quality. If you would like to read a thesis, please send a message to N.vanBemmel@tudelft.nl and you will receive a copy.