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

30 April 2020

Investment of 14 million for better use of micro-organisms

Microorganisms can perform many processes useful to mankind, such as converting milk to cheese, keeping human and animal intestines healthy, and cleaning our water and environment. Together with Wageningen University & Research and Delft University of Technology, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) will invest almost 25 million euros in a research facility for investigating mixed microbial communities and their application. The research facility – called UNLOCK (UNLOCKing Microbial Diversity for Society) - consists of equipment and human resources that will be used to gather knowledge on micro-organisms effectively. Team-players Micro-organisms are natural team-players. They are essential for human health via the intestinal microbiome, and for processes like waste water treatment, soil fertilization for plant growth, and food preparation such as cheese or beer through fermentation. However, even though natural and man-made ecosystems are characterized by an enormous microbial diversity, research on microbial communities and their application in biotechnological processes historically has been conducted with a very limited number of strains isolated from these ecosystems. We are currently using no more than 1 per cent of the microbiological potential available in nature Ecosystem Besides that, research on micro-organisms usually focuses on a limited number of specific strains of organisms, while in nature micro-organisms always operate in ecosystems consisting of different species. ‘You could compare it to building a house’, says Robbert Kleerebezem, who is the Delft scientist involved in the project. ‘To build one, you need different experts, like masons, roofers, electricians and plumbers. You can pick out any one of them, and study what they are doing, but that won’t tell you anything about what the resulting house will look like.’ Eagerly awaited Wageningen and Delft have launched the new research facility UNLOCK to study mixed microbial cultures extensively. Various sub-areas of research will be integrated through UNLOCK. This development has been eagerly awaited by researchers studying mixed microbial communities. This integration will make significant scientific and societal breakthroughs possible. NWO's approval will make a 14.5 million euro funding available for the next decade, of which a third will go to TU Delft. Automated cultivation of ecosystems "In Delft we will be working on making automated systems in which we can cultivate ecosystems of micro-organisms in mixed compositions, and monitor them’, says Kleerebezem. ‘This makes UNLOCK a unique facility, because we will be able to do comparative studies on a large scale and in an efficient manner, in order to gain important insights into the interactions between micro-organisms’. New persepectives A total of 24.8 million euros will be invested in UNLOCK. Lead petitioner, Prof. Hauke Smidt is delighted with the approval. ‘This is fantastic. UNLOCK opens up entirely new perspectives for the discovery of new micro-organisms and ground-breaking research on mixed microbial communities’. UNLOCKing Microbial Diversity for Society In UNLOCK, Wageningen and Delft have joined forces towards full integration of all relevant fields of expertise in four complementary platforms: · The Biodiscovery platform (WUR-Microbiology) allows its users to discover and characterize new micro-organisms. In addition, there is a processing unit that allows for fully automated unlocking of biological samples for biomolecular analysis. · The Modular bioreactor platform (WUR-Environmental Technology) facilitates research for sustainable solutions to environmental issues, such as the degradation of (micro) pollutants, sustainable energy generation and reclaiming resources from complex waste streams. · With the Parallel Bioreactor platform (TU Delft -Biotechnology), users can simultaneously conduct dozens of experiments in bioreactors for comparative analysis on how process variables affect system development. · The FAIR data platform (WUR-Systems & Synthetic Biology) takes care of the storage, processing and interpretation of large quantities of data flowing from the experimental systems in a cloud-based infrastructure based on the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable). Large-scale Scientific Infrastructure NWO has allocated a total of 93 million euros to seven projects. The Ministry of Culture and Education makes funds available to NWO for the National Roadmap for a Large-scale Scientific Infrastructure. These funds enable the building and overhaul of essential research infrastructures. The awarded scientific infrastructures are of critical importance to innovative scientific research, and as a stimulus for economic and societal innovations across all scientific disciplines. Robbert Kleerebezem +31 15 2781091 r.kleerebezem@tudelft.nl

News

15 January 2016

Algae prove promising candidates for biodiesel production via 'survival of the fattest'

Smart methods for cultivating algae bring the efficient production of biodiesel using algae in sight. On Tuesday 19 January, Peter Mooij will obtain his doctorate at TU Delft for his work on this subject. CO 2 neutral There is huge scientific interest in the use of microalgae to produce carbohydrates and in particular lipids (fats), as lipids from microalgae can be converted into biodiesel. The amount of CO 2 released by the combustion of this biodiesel is equal to the amount of CO 2 that was previously extracted from the atmosphere by the microalgae. Thus the use of biodiesel does not lead to an increase in CO 2 in the atmosphere. 'Microalgae offer two huge advantages over other biological oil production platforms', says doctoral candidate Peter Mooij from TU Delft. 'Firstly, after cultivation, microalgae can be made up relatively largely of lipids. And secondly, relatively little fresh water and agricultural land is required to cultivate microalgae.' Survival of the fattest Mooij uses a smart method to cultivate suitable algae that is economically viable for large-scale algae production: survival of the fattest. The fattest algae survive. 'In the reactor we give a competitive advantage to the algae with the required characteristics, in this case the production of carbohydrates and fats. We start with a collection of 'ordinary' algae. During the day we provide them with light and CO 2 . This is enough for them to produce oil, however they are unable to divide. They need nutrients for cell division and they are only given these in the dark. To absorb these nutrients, the algae need energy and carbon. This means that only the fattest algae can divide, as they have stored these during the day. By removing some of the algae every day, the culture will eventually exist of only the fattest algae.' Starch 'All of our experiments led to systems in which carbohydrates (starch) formed the primary energy storage compounds', continues Mooij. 'So we have found a suitable environment in which carbohydrate production by algae is rewarded.' Unfortunately this environment is not yet selective for the storage of fats. The culture environment needs to be made even more specific to achieve this. 'But a greater understanding of the ecological role of lipids and carbohydrates in microalgae clears the way for the creation of lipid-specific selective environments. Rewarding a microalga for showing the desired behaviour by using a selective environment, one of the central concepts in my research, will be shown to be a valuable approach once there is a better understanding of the ecological role of lipids.' More information For further information please contact Peter Mooij tel. +31 6 - 483 826 35 or p.r.mooij@tudelft.nl or Wendy Batist, press officer TU Delft via tel. +31 - 15 - 27 884 99 or g.m.batist@tudelft.nl . Please read Peter Mooij's blogs on Faces of Science (only in Dutch).