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

06 June 2014

2014 NWO Spinoza Prize for TU Delft environmental biotechnologist Mark van Loosdrecht

Environmental biotechnologist Mark van Loosdrecht of TU Delft is one of four scientists who received the 2014 NWO Spinoza Prize from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) on Friday 6 June. The Spinoza Prize is the highest scientific distinction in the Netherlands, and is awarded by NWO to researchers working in the Netherlands who according to international standards are at the pinnacle of science. The laureates will each receive 2.5 million euros this autumn for their scientific research. In addition to Van Loosdrecht, the NWO Spinoza Prize was also awarded to experimental physicist Dirk Bouwmeester (Leiden University), archaeologist of the Caribbean area Corinne Hofman (Leiden University) and migratory bird ecologist Theunis Piersma (University of Groningen). Van Loosdrecht Prof. M.C.M. (Mark) van Loosdrecht (1959) is professor of Environmental Biotechnology and Water Treatment at TU Delft. He studies and modifies the properties of microorganisms and microbial communities in technical systems. He combines research and engineering in the development of technologies. His research into the behaviour of bacteria under dynamic conditions enables the development of new methods for water treatment and the creation of useful substances from waste material. Van Loosdrecht’s research group is currently focusing heavily on the production of raw materials from waste streams. Tangible applications from fundamental research Van Loosdrecht and his research group combine fundamental research into microbial ecology with concepts from physics, chemistry and bioengineering. This leads to scientific paradigm shifts and to tangible applications in practice. Van Loosdrecht works closely with the business community for the practical implementation of his research, while at the same time seeking contact with scientists from other disciplines. Inventor of new technologies Van Loosdrecht’s research into biofilms – a layer of microorganisms encompassed by self-produced slime attached to a surface – and reserve substances of microorganisms resulted in a new field of research. Van Loosdrecht is also the inventor of aerobic granular sludge technology (known commercially as Nereda technology ), which is based on the control of the growth and formation of microbial communities in granular sludge. In addition, he developed the Anammox technology , through which harmful ammonium and nitrite are converted into harmless nitrogen gas and water. Both technologies enable contaminated water to be treated using less energy and fewer chemicals, while producing less CO2 emissions. Working plants The Nereda technology is regarded as an important new Dutch innovation and has already been implemented in a number of other countries. Currently, various working plants for domestic wastewater are already up and running in the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa, while Royal HaskoningDHV has recently signed large contracts for exporting the technology to Brazil and Great Britain. It is possible to extract the biopolymer alginate from the Nereda sludge. Successful pilot plant experiments are currently being carried out for the production of bioplastic from wastewater . Numerous awards Mark van Loosdrecht studied environmental hygiene at Wageningen University and obtained a doctorate there in 1988 before leaving for TU Delft where he has been a professor since 1999. He has been a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) since 2004, and since 2007 a member of the Dutch Academy for Technology and Innovation (AcTI). He has received numerous awards both at home and abroad, from academia and industry, including the Simon Stevin Master Prize www.stw.nl/nl/content/delftse-milieutechnoloog-mark-van-loosdrecht-stw-simon-stevin-meester-2013 for technical-scientific research in the Netherlands and the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize . In 2013, he toured universities in the United States as distinguished lecturer. He is also principal researcher at KWR Watercycle Research Institute, a n honorary doctor at ETH Zurich and an honorary professor at Queensland University in Australia. Award ceremony The festive presentation of the NWO Spinoza Prizes will take place in the Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague on 9 September 2014. During the ceremony, the laureates will receive their awards and present their research and plans for the coming years. More information For the NWO’s original press release and high-resolution photos of the laureates, please see www.nwo.nl/spinozapremie A playlist of various short films on which Van Loosdrecht has collaborated can be found on YouTube: youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60B7666C5823CFEE Contact: staff.tudelft.nl/M.C.M.vanLoosdrecht

03 June 2014

TU Delft takes a closer look at ‘new’, extreme bacteria

TU Delft is working with an international team to unravel the mystery of a newly-discovered type of bacteria. It can survive in extreme conditions that were normal on earth billions of years ago. The research could cast new light on how life first started on Earth. The scientists recently published about it in Nature Communications. Life The remarkable bacteria that are now being studied in more detail by TU Delft thrive best at an extremely high pH of 11. This is the highest that has ever been measured for bacteria. They were recently discovered in springs in an ancient volcanic region of northern California. Until recently, no one had ever thought of exploring these springs for signs of life. The conditions were considered to be too extreme, with a pH of 11 and hardly any traces of the important elements phosphorus, nitrogen and sulphur. Photo: Vibeke Kuenen-Boumeester Extreme environment ‘This extreme environment develops as a result of a very old geological process known as serpentinization’, says TU Delft's Prof. Gijs Kuenen. ‘In it, water reacts with iron-containing silicates to form hydrogen gas. In the early life of the planet, more than three billion years ago, this process was very dominant.’ ‘The bacteria appear to grow very well with hydrogen plus oxygen or nitrate as a source of energy and carbon dioxide as a source of carbon, but they can also grow on a range of organic compounds. DNA analysis reveals that these bacteria occur globally in other such springs in which serpentinization occurs.’ Mystery Gijs Kuenen and his colleagues from the J. Craig Venter Institute and the University of Southern California are now working hard in the laboratory to unravel the mystery. ‘We aim to discover how they manage to survive and even thrive at this extreme pH. Studying these bacteria could help in gaining an understanding of how life came about on the early Earth and about the way in which life can exist in a very alkaline environment.’ International The bacteria have been given the genus name Serpentinomonas. The research has been conducted by an international team in which TU Delft is playing an important role. The team previously published about it in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science . A follow-up article has now been published in Nature Communications . More information Physiological and genomic features of highly alkaliphilic hydrogen-utilizing Betaproteobacteria from a continental serpentinizing site , by Shino Suzuki, J. Gijs Kuenen, Kira Schipper, Suzanne van der Velde, Shun’ichi Ishii, Angela Wu, Dimitry Y. Sorokin, Aaron Tenney, XianYing Meng, Penny L. Morrill, Yoichi Kamagata, Gerard Muyzer & Kenneth H. Nealson, Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3900, doi:10.1038/ncomms4900. Contact: Prof. J. Gijs Kuenen, +31 (0)15 213 7840 or at TU Delft: +31 (0)15 2785308, J.G.Kuenen@tudelft.nl, or visit his personal page . TU Delft science information officer Roy Meijer, +31 (0)15 2781751, r.e.t.meijer@tudelft.nl