Our current society depends on many natural resources, and the availability of these natural resources (minerals, fossil fuels) is becoming more and more limited. The challenge of a sustainable and biobased economy is to develop innovative technologies to recover and reuse minerals and energy-rich compounds from waste streams and non-food agricultural crops. Microorganisms can be exploited for biotechnological purposes.
The aim of this project is to study novel anaerobic microorganisms that:
1. Degrade and grow with biopolymers (polysaccharides and lipids),
2. Produce high value products (succinate and long chain fatty acids),
3. Possess a metabolism that can be steered by hydrogen and/or electricity.
Microbial diversity represents an enormous reservoir of novel catalysts that can be exploited for a biobased economy. Molecular ecological research has shown that the majority (> 95 %) of the microorganisms in Nature has not yet been cultured and characterized. Their function in geochemical cycles is unknown and their biotechnological potential unexploited. This also applies for methanogenic environments in which organic matter is converted to methane and carbon dioxide, via energy rich organic intermediates. Our understanding of the microbial interactions that take place in methane formation is still scarce, especially how fermentations are influenced by hydrogen. In methanogenic environments fermentative anaerobes are present that produce valuable organic compounds, which should be exploited.
Novel anaerobes can be isolated by intelligent and innovative isolation approaches, such as the MicroDish method. This method is currently adapted in my group for high throughput screening of strict anaerobes. The genomes of selected strains will be sequenced, followed by proteomics to obtain insight into their physiology to optimize the formation of valuable compounds. Such novel anaerobes will become the pillars of new biotechnological activities in Europe.