Maria Westerholm

Biomethane (biogas) production is a waste-to-energy technology with outstanding climate, environmental and societal benefits. The aim of the present project is to improve the activities of a ubiquitous and important microbial group called ‘syntrophs,’ that work in tight cooperation to form methane in these biotechnology systems. Initially, cultivation, molecular and visualization approaches will be used to address key knowledge gaps within the area. This will enable us to reconstruct metabolic models to predict nutrient requirements and rationally design new culture conditions for these microbes. Thereafter, the outcome will be practically assessed in cultivation systems that mimic the habitat in large-scale facilities. The prospect is to contribute to the development of effective strategies to increase the methane forming capacity of syntrophs and by that improve productivity in biomethane production systems with decisive importance for the transition to a sustainable society.

Magnus Kjærgaard

Microorganisms such as yeast can produce natural chemicals from other other organisms such as plants in a sustainable manner. This involves genetically engineering the yeast to produce the right plant enzymes but does not always work. Microorganisms have different internal environment than plants which may interfere with the enzymes. Here, we engineer a new compartment in the microorganism – a membrane-less organelle. The membrane-less organelles should act as a reaction chamber than isolate the new enzymes from the life processes of the host and vice versa. This organelles should concentrate the right enzymes and their substrates and exclude interfering enzymes. We hypothesize that such structures will accelerate the reaction and reduce formation of by-products and can be used to produce many different chemicals. We will focus on enzymes producing natural colourants as a test case to explore general principles governing enzyme containing membrane-less organelles.

Sesilja Aranko

Protein-based materials carry the potential to combine excellent mechanical properties with inherent biodegradability and valuable functionalities, such as self-healing. Despite substantial progress in the design of artificial protein-based materials, they are yet to reach their full potential.

One of the current limitations is related to so called post-translational modifications, which are covalent modifications of proteins occurring after their biosynthesis. There is accumulating evidence that the post-translational modifications of proteins are essential for the mechanical properties and functionalities of the resulting materials. Yet, the mechanisms behind how these modifications affect the properties of biomaterials are not fully understood, mainly due to technical limitations.

In the Pro2Fun project, I aim to develop methods to produce post-translationally modified structural proteins, including silks and collagens, in bacteria that cannot make the desired modifications naturally. Production in bacteria enables obtaining the proteins in an economical, ethical, and sustainable manner. Furthermore, I will use the modified proteins to engineer novel functional biomaterials, which have the potential to substitute current oil- and animal-based alternatives.

Magdalena Malm

Genetic diseases are caused by errors in our genetic material that encodes critical functions in our bodies. To correct such errors has long been a goal for researchers and since 2017, there have been major advancements in the development of so-called gene therapies based on adeno-associated viruses (AAVs). This virus is not causing diseases in humans and can be altered to deliver a correct gene into patients. Such therapies can treat diseases like genetic blindness and hemophilia B. However, a major limitation with these drugs is that they are very expensive to produce, resulting in doses costing up to 3.5 million USD. This is partly due to inefficient production by so called cell factories and low quality of the produced AAVs. This project aims to provide insight into the host environment of the cell factories to pinpoint what components can be altered to improve them. Ultimately, the collected knowledge will be used to generate more sustainable and efficient AAV cell factories.

Maria Sammalkorpi

A pressing need for renewable, biodegradable, yeast or bacteria culture produced biosynthetic materials exists in our society. Specifically, self-organizing biosynthetic structural protein materials could induce a green revolution in fiber, textile, and composite industries. These materials also offer breakthroughs in pharmaceutical materials, especially as support and host matrices but also triggered gel-solid transition systems, and sustainable solutions for alimentation industry. Living cells control structural material self-organization and materials properties via non-equilibrium processes such as material flows and dynamically evolving assemblies. The HACMAT project targets design principles for advanced biosynthetic protein materials that self-organize in a non-equilibrium, active condensate phase. HACMAT uses computational modelling combined with experimental characterization.


Photo credit: Aalto University/Mikko Raskinen

Yvonne Nygård

In this project, the focus is on constructing microbes, yeasts and filamentous fungi (molds) that are used for biotechnological production of aromatic biochemicals. These chemicals are used in the manufacture of various medicines or as additives in cosmetics or food. Today, most aromatic chemicals are produced from oil, through polluting chemical reactions. Thus, the need for new, sustainable production methods is urgent. The production of biochemicals will be improved through new cutting-edge technology, using genetic scissors and biosensors, genetic tools that can measure the content of chemicals produced by the cells. The biosensors developed will serve as tools to determine what genetic engineering can be done to increase the production and to evaluate strain performance. Strains will be constructed and characterized in high-throughput to ensure success and increase knowledge. More productive microbial cell factories are needed for bio-based chemicals to be competitive and applied industrially.

Johannes Kabisch

Through the processes of evolution bacteria have developed to survive the harshest of environments. One of the strategies is to protect their blueprint for life, their DNA, in so called spores. These dormant spores can persist for thousands of years and upon encountering a sustainable environment return to a normal life and propagate. We are in daily contact with such spores, some are used as probiotics helping us to recover our intestinal flora, while others are being used as a bio-friendly means to support agriculture. The PolySpore project will use this naturally evolved “DNA-safe” as a platform to develop novel, extremly strong materials as well as biological super-hard drives allowing us to safely store DNA-encoded data protected by the spores.

Gaston Courtade

Polysaccharides are sugar chains that provide a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based materials. The properties and applications of polysaccharides depend on the layout of sugar building blocks in the chain. To fully harness the potential of polysaccharides as biomaterials, we need to be able to control how they are made by living organisms. Polysaccharides are often assembled by enzymes that transfer a specific type of sugar to another one, creating a chain with defined sequence and properties. The project aims to control and engineer how these enzymes combine the sugar building blocks. This will help us understand how polysaccharides are assembled and at the same time allow us to make polysaccharides with new sequences. Using this knowledge, we hope to one day be able to design tailor-made polysaccharides and biomaterials with unique functions needed in a greener society.

Rosanna Catherine Hennessy

BoostR is an innovative and multidisciplinary research program to identify and characterize small molecules regulating specialized metabolism in biotechnologically relevant bacteria. Specialized metabolites are an important and often untapped source of bioactive compounds with vast applications in industrial and environmental biotechnology. However, under laboratory conditions specialized metabolites are often not produced. To unlock these valuable pathways, a molecular level understanding of the regulators and genetic networks controlling specialized metabolite synthesis is needed. BoostR aims to unlock, unravel and utilize small regulatory molecules to control and boost production of high-value bioactive compounds for biotechnology. This research will benefit society by providing basic and applied research studies to develop new biological systems and products to promote productivity and sustainability.

Jane Wittrup Agger

Lignin, which is a part of the fibrous structure in wood, is a renewable resource that can potentially replace the use of oil and gas in a number of applications and materials, which we consider critical to modern society. Currently, lignin is not used because it is difficult to extract from wood in sufficient quality and form. Wood and plant biomass are already extensively used in many applications, but traditional industrial processing heavily degrades lignin. Consequently, 98% of the lignin that enters processing today is merely burned off.  The purpose of LiFe is to discover new enzymes and non-catalytic proteins that will allow extraction of lignin in a high quality form. We will employ enzymes and other proteins, because they are specific and environmentally friendly catalysts. In the future, high quality lignin will make it feasible to develop highly advanced applications like next generation batteries, carbon fibers, bioplastics, building materials and more, based on plants and not on oil.