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

25 November 2021

BEI Best MSc Graduate 2021: Alicia Rodríguez Molina!

BEI Best MSc Graduate Awards 2021 Since 2020, Delft Bioengineering Institute (BEI) organizes a cross-campus competition for MSc students who performed remarkably well at their graduation projects in bioengineering. This year, sixteen very impressive theses were submitted. After a strenuous review and discussion, the jury finally agreed that Alicia Rodríguez Molina (MSc Life Science & Technology), Akash Singh (MSc Computer Science) and Jette Bloemberg (MSc Mechanical Engineering) have delivered the most innovative, interdisciplinary bioengineering projects of 2021. On top of eternal fame, they will receive personal cash prizes of €1000, €500 and €250. 1. Alicia Rodríguez Molina (MSc Life Science & Technology) Thesis: "TPR Chat is a separase-like protease that forms a complex with the CRISPR-Cas type III-E endoribonuclease effector gRAMP” Daily supervisor: Sam van Beljouw (Applied Sciences, Bionanoscience) Thesis Committee: Stan Brouns (AS/BN), Peter-Leon Hagedoorn (AS/Biotechnology), Chirlmin Joo (AS/BN) “Alicia has made large contributions to our research discovering a new CRISPR-Cas system with potentially profound implications and new applications. She has been responsible for the major discovery that links a protease (protein cleaving enzyme) to CRISPR-Cas for the first time. The protein complex she identified was named Craspase and can likely trigger cell suicide in bacteria to protect bacteria from virus infection. We anticipate that Craspase can be converted to a tool for applications in molecular diagnostics, targeted knockdown of gene expression and biomolecule activation or deactivation in cells. A patent was also filled to protect some of these ideas. Importantly, her findings were included in a paper published in Science August 26 (attached) on which she was third author.” 2. Akash Singh (MSc Computer Science) Thesis: “Unsupervised Manifold Alignment with TopoGAN” Thesis Committee: Marcel Reinders (EWI/Pattern Recognition and Bioinformatics), Christoph Lofi (EWI/Web Information Systems), Ahmed Mahfouz (EWI/PRB and LUMC/Radiology), Tamim Abdelaal (LUMC/Radiology) “In his thesis, Akash developed TopoGAN, a deep learning method to solve the challenging task of integrating single cell datasets with no matching samples (i.e. cells) or features. Akash’s thesis proposes multiple innovative ideas to address this challenge. First, Akash showed that Topological Autoencoders can capture the heterogeneity of single cell data better than current approaches such as (variational autoencoders, tSNE and UMAP). This on its own is a significant contribution to the field. Second, Akash proposed an approach to tackle the instability of GAN methods in the task of manifold alignment, which can be generally applied in other fields of machine learning. Third, in evaluating the performance of his method, Akash showed that current strategies have severe shortcomings and should as such be revised to faithfully reflect the performance of different methods.” 3. Jette Bloemberg (MSc Mechanical Engineering) Thesis: “MRI-Ready Actuation System for a Self-Propelling Needle” Supervisors: Fabian Trauzettel (3mE/Biomechanical Engineering), Dimitra Dodou (3mE/BmechE), Paul Breedveld (3mE/BmechE) Thesis Committee: Paul Breedveld (3mE/BmechE), Fabian Trauzettel (3mE/BmechE), Dimitra Dodou (3mE/BmechE), Matthijs Langelaar (3mE/Precision and Microsystems Engineering), Jovana Jovanova (3mE/MTT) “Jette did a very interesting research into a new kind of self-propelled steerable needle for prostate interventions under MRI. She developed a perfectly working prototype, bio-inspired on the anatomy of parasitic wasps. (…) Based on a past PhD project in which we developed novel, self-propelling needles based on the ovipositor-anatomy of parasitic wasps, Jette brought this research to an entirely new level. In her project we wanted to evaluate ovipositor-inspired needles on human prostate tissue under MRI. This means that the design should not contain any metallic parts that react on the powerful magnetic MRI-field. To solve this issue, Jette designed an entirely novel manually-driven propulsion mechanism that she printed from plastic on Formlabs and Ulitimaker 3D-printers, thereby gaining a lot of know-how on how to design complex mechanisms with tight tolerances using 3D printers. Driven by her novel propulsion mechanism, Jette designed a very thin (Ø0,81mm) ovipositor needle composed out of six individually moveable NiTi rods. For the experiments in human prostate tissue, Jette set up a very close collaboration with a well-known urology group at the Amsterdam University Medical Center (AUMC), headed by Dr. Daniel Martijn de Bruin. Jette organised many meetings with this group, arranging human prostate tissue, and using an MRI-laboratory scanner at the AUMC for her experiments. As the space within this MRI-scanner was limited, she also developed a special experimental facility in which the tissue could be stored and moved with near zero friction.”