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

07 April 2016

Two ERC Advanced Grants for TU Delft researchers

Two TU Delft researchers have been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant. Yuli Nazarov and Jack Pronk will both receive this European grant, which is only awarded to five-year projects conducted by internationally established research leaders. Higher-dimensional topological solids realized with multi-terminal superconducting junctions Prof. Yuli Nazarov of the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience (Applied Sciences) will receive an ERC Advanced Grant of €1.5 million for his research proposal on HITSUPERJU (Higher-dimensional topological solids realized with multi-terminal superconducting junctions). His project focuses on topological materials: materials that exhibit the properties of conductors and insulators simultaneously in certain states. Topological materials were only discovered relatively recently, and they have since become a hot topic in the world of solid-state physics. These exotic materials are fundamentally interesting and also hold promise for concrete applications (such as a quantum computer based on Majorana fermions). However, they are very difficult to prepare and control. Yet some properties of topological materials can be closely simulated using a multi-terminal superconducting junction. Nazarov will put together a team of theorists to investigate this and formulate concrete suggestions for experiments and applications. Eliminating Oxygen Requirements in Yeasts Prof. Jack Pronk of the Department of Biotechnology (Applied Sciences) will receive an ERC Advanced Grant of €2.5 million to conduct research on the oxygen requirements of yeasts and fungi. The project, entitled ELOXY (Eliminating Oxygen Requirements in Yeasts), aims to shed light on the as yet unanswered question of why many yeasts and fungi need molecular oxygen. Even when these micro- organisms can obtain plenty of energy from anaerobic fermentation processes, they still need small amounts of oxygen - and nobody knows why. This conundrum is not only of scientific interest, but is also relevant for large-scale application of yeasts and fungi in anaerobic industrial processes.

03 March 2016

A sustainable, good, affordable Hib vaccine for every child

With her doctoral research, TU Delft doctoral candidate Ahd Hamidi has made a major contribution to developing an innovative, scalable, affordable version of the Haemophilus influenzae (Hib) vaccine developed by Intravacc. This low-cost vaccine has now been used to protect 200 million children worldwide against Hib diseases such as meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis and otitis media. Hamidi has defended her dissertation at TU Delft on Thursday 3 March. Gram stain of Haemophilus influenzae type b bacterium Since the 1990s, children in high-income countries have been vaccinated on a large scale with Hib vaccine, which protects against Hib diseases such as meningitis. Since 1993, the Hib vaccine has also been included in the Dutch National Vaccination Programme. ‘The introduction of Hib-vaccine in developing countries was slow, mainly because of its relatively high price. Further, the local vaccine manufacturers didn’t had access to the technology needed for the production of the vaccine’, says Hamidi. In Intravacc’s Hib project she worked on process development, making a major scientific and social contribution to the availability of approved registered low-cost Hib vaccine. Her dissertation also discusses ways of optimising the process and thus reducing the cost price still further, an attractive option for both current or future partners want. Technology transfer and price reduction Hamidi’s research focused on process development and technology transfer to vaccine manufacturers in developing countries, and using mathematical models to improve process knowledge and investigate whether further process optimisation (cost reduction) is possible. In 2013, one of Intravacc’s partners marketed the Hib vaccine, as part of a combined vaccine including four others, through UNICEF at a price that was three times lower than that of existing Hib vaccines, thus bringing it within reach of large numbers of children. If a further price reduction can be achieved, the countries concerned would be able to bear the cost of the vaccine themselves in future. The knowledge gained in the Hib project has meanwhile been transferred successfully to local manufacturers in Indonesia, China (via Korea) and India. UNICEF and GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) are both involved in distributing the vaccine. Mathematical models Hamidi collaborated closely with experienced process designers and vaccine experts at such institutions as Intravacc (formerly the Netherlands Vaccine Institute (NVI) and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)) and with various vaccine manufacturers in Indonesia, China, Korea and India. She used the Delft process design method and the knowledge of experts at TU Delft to develop the mathematical models. This enabled predictable models of the Hib process developed and performing sensitivity analyses on the Hib process, thus showing the impact of particular choices on cost. ‘This approach can help both current and future Hib partners to make choices, for example between the use of existing production facilities and building new ones, or the optimum scale of production,’ explains Hamidi. Other vaccines This rational Delft method of process design, says Hamidi, can also be used very efficiently to develop other vaccines. While the process was being developed it was decided to protect it with a patent: partners have a license and their production method protected. More information After graduating in Chemical Engineering (MSc) and Bioprocess Design (PDEng) at TU Delft, Hamidi started working for the forerunners of Intravacc as a process technologist and subsequently project manager and technology transfer expert. In her dissertation she shares the lessons learned from the Hib project so that similar technology transfer projects can benefit from the experience. The project will help to reduce child mortality, one of the UN Millennium Development Goals. Hamidi published in the renowned journal Biotechnology Process in January 2016: ‘ Process development of a new Haemophilus influenzae type b conjugate vaccine and the use of mathematical modeling to identify process optimization possibilities ’ Contact For more information about the dissertation 'Towards a sustainable, quality and affordable Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine for every child in the world' , please contact A. Hamidi MSc, A.Hamidi@tudelft.nl / Ahd.Hamidi@intravacc.nl tel. +31 30 2742066 or Claire Hallewas (TU Delft Press Officer), c.r.hallewas@tudelft.nl , +31 6 4095 3085.

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
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