Pawel Michal Lycus

Until the mid-20th century, farmers struggled to get enough nitrogen for their crops, which limited plant growth. Then, along came the Haber-Bosch process, a groundbreaking invention that allowed us to make ammonia from the air, solving the nitrogen shortage and boosting food production worldwide. However, this innovation also led to a problem: farmers started using too much nitrogen, causing issues in the environment.

In response, this project, NoN2O, aims to develop biotechnology to use nitrogen more efficiently in agriculture and to reduce harmful nitrous oxide (N2O) greenhouse gas emissions. We plan to do this by utilizing waste materials to increase the activity of DNRA bacteria in soils. We will specifically focus on bacteria that in addition to DNRA can consume N2O, so when they are vectored into soils, they will enhance nitrogen retention and reduce the emissions. In simple terms, it is about making farming more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Christian Schnepel

Amides form an essential chemical connection formed by condensation of a carboxylic acid and an amine. These acylation reactions assemble molecular scaffolds to form complex molecules, a vital step for production of numerous chemicals. Traditional chemical approaches used to create this important bond are often inefficient and contribute significantly to the environmental footprint of chemical industries. Thus, development of sustainable syntheses for amides, peptides, and beyond is paramount to meet the growing demand for pharmaceuticals against diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Central to our project are thioesters of coenzyme A, a vitamin B5 derivative that functions as nature’s mediator for activating and carrying carboxylic acids in metabolism. Inspired by this nature-based approach, Bio-ATEAM will unlock green acylation techniques through developing new-to-nature biocatalysts and multi-enzyme cascades, enabling synthesis of amides, peptides, and related acyl compounds. Ultimately, our enzyme-driven strategy will be instrumental to sustainably manufacture next-generation fine chemicals and drugs.

Johan Larsbrink

Tree bark is a renewable resource produced in huge amounts every year, but it is today of low-value and poorly used. It is today typically burnt, though its high moisture and ash make this inefficient, and the bark’s different structure from regular wood also makes it unsuitable for regular pulping. The bark contains a high proportion of defensive compounds, known as extractives, which are generally toxic and protects the tree against attacks. The idea of this project is to enable biological conversion of the extractives into novel products that can replace fossil alternatives used today. However, there is virtually no existing knowledge on how bark is deconstructed in nature, which prevents such developments. We will generate the necessary knowledge by following bark degradation, and use identified enzymes and microorganisms to valorize bark, its extractives, and help mitigate material losses in industry.

Ditte Welner

Enzymes can be used to produce many of the things that our society needs with low environmental footprint compared to producing the same thing with conventional chemical methods. UGTs are enzymes that can attach a sugar molecule to a cosmetic ingredient, dye, food ingredient, and other chemicals, thereby increasing the water solubility and stability. However, most UGTs cannot withstand the conditions present in industrial processes, so it becomes very expensive and unsustainable to use them. But nature has a place to look for stable enzymes: the extremophiles. These are organisms living in extreme environments such as geysers, the arctic, the desert, or deep down in the sea. They have evolved to withstand these hard conditions, and so have their enzymes. This project discovers novel, robust enzymes from extremophiles, and uses these to learn something about what control an enzymes robustness. The project will also develop low-impact biosolutions.

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.