Microbial robustness - a key for sustainable and efficient biotechnology-based production
The negative environmental impacts of fossil fuels and the rising demand for energy is increasing the demands for bio-based fuels as an eco-friendly alternative. Yeast is able to convert lower-value resources such as waste and plant material into bioethanol. However, during the biochemical production of biofuels from e.g. lignocellulosic material (plant biomass), yeast cells face different types of stresses (growth inhibitors, metabolic/product stress, etc.), which impinge on productivity. To withstand these stresses, microbial robustness is crucial. Indeed, microbial robustness refers to the cell’s ability to maintain an optimal performance under challenging conditions.
In this project funded by Novo Nordisk Fonden, Lisbeth Olsson (Department of Biology and Biological Engineering) with a team of one post-doc and two PhD students, aims to achieve a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying microbial robustness, which will lead to the development of better and more robust yeast strains. As starting points, different aspects of yeast cell physiology, evolution and literature will be explored (Figure). First, natural diversity offers an opportunity to explore how yeasts developed naturally a great genetic variation to deal with different environmental stresses. Second, along the years, yeast has been adapted to certain industrial applications, but the mechanism responsible for adaptation and evolution has not been investigated deeply in the molecular or genomic level. For this reason, due to the little availability of studies on microbial robustness, evolutionary engineering under relevant industrial conditions can help to increase the appearance of robustness-related traits.
From a more practical point of view, screening and phenotyping assays will be performed to identify the best phenotypical characteristics. After that, thanks to the use of -omics analysis, molecular biology and metabolic engineering, molecular traits such as genetic markers or cellular protectants will be identified. The new findings will eventually overcome limitations found in industries and monitor the cellular status during the fermentations.
In summary, this project aims to advance the development of a sustainable bio-economy by elucidating some of the principles behind microbial robustness, enriching the academic knowledge about the topic and transferring it to industrial applications.
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- Novo Nordisk Fonden (Non Profit, Denmark)