Synthetic Biology - Fermentation and Biocatalysis

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Microbial Biosynthesis of Hexadecanol and Octadecanol

David Stuart (Department of Biochemistry, U of A), David Bressler (Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, U of A), Jack Saddler (Department of Wood Science, UBC), David Bird (Department of Biology, Mount Royal University)

Fatty alcohols are molecules composed of long hydrocarbon chains and a hydrophilic alcohol end group. Fatty alcohols are used industrially as surfactants, and lubricant additives. Additionally, their chemical character allows fatty alcohols to orient themselves at interfaces for use as emulsifiers and emollients in the cosmetic industry. As building block chemicals they are broadly utilized as they can be easily modified. Natural fatty alcohols are rare, low abundance molecules that can be produced by hydrolysis or trans-esterification of triglycerides from vegetable oils followed by hydrogenation to produce alcohols. They can also be produced from petrochemicals. Currently these routes are the primary source. The Stuart lab has developed a microbial system for the bioconversion of sugars and starches to 16- and 18-carbon alcohols. The current technology allows hydrolysates of softwood and potentially other cellulosic materials to be converted to fatty alcohols. This project is aimed at further development of this system to improve product yield and ease of product recovery, and will aim to produce fatty alcohols from Alberta’s abundant renewable biomass thus reducing reliance on the use of petrochemicals and oils that are needed for use as food. This will allow the production of high value chemicals from low value biomass to increase the diversity and strength of Alberta’s Bioeconomy.


Optimization of Biopolymer Production By Microorganisms Using Single Carbon Substrates

Dominic Sauvageau (Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, U of A), Lisa Stein (Department of Biological Sciences, U of A), TerraVerdae Bioworks

TerraVerdae Bioworks develops next generation bioplastics and bio-chemicals as alternatives to fossil-derived products. It specializes in bioprocesses that utilize single carbon (C1) feedstocks derived from waste sources, such as methanol and methane. In addition to providing alternatives to petrochemical-based materials, this approach avoids added pressure on agricultural resources. C1-consuming microbes (methylotrophs) grow on either methane or methanol and produce storage polymers that are precursors for next generation bioplastics. Many biochemical pathways required for the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) by methylotrophs are known; however, optimization and regulation of their biosynthesis is not well understood. This project combines academic and industrial expertise to: optimize and scale polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB, a type of PHA) production by methylotrophs, and determine the molecular regulation leading to enhanced productivity. Using bench to pilot scale bioreactors, the medium formulation and growth parameters will be optimized for scale-up of PHB production. Global gene expression analysis to characterize regulation of biosynthesis will be characterized for further optimization.


Accelerated Biodensification of Oil Sands Tailings

Julia Foght (Department of Biological Sciences, U of A), Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.

This project explores treatment of oil sands tailings with organic amendments using anaerobic bioreactors to develop research methods for manipulating the indigenous microbes in tailings material. The Foght lab will examine whether anaerobic treatment that stimulates microbial activity in tailings can accelerate the de-watering and consolidation of tailings. Specifically, different on-site amendments at the mine will be tested to see whether ‘accelerated biodensification’ is generally applicable to tailings or only relevant to certain combinations of materials.


Conversion of Recycling and Paper Industry Waste to Aromatics

Dominic Sauvageau (Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, U of A), Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd. (DMI)

More and more biological processes are tapped as novel, cleaner and, often, cheaper means of production for a variety of products. In particular, the demand for and market value of aromatic specialty chemicals – compounds used as building blocks in a variety of industries, from biopharmaceuticals to energy – make them relevant candidates for bioproduction in engineered microbes. This bio-based approach creates a novel, renewable alternative to the traditional energetically and environmentally taxing methods of production. To this aim, metabolic pathways can be modified and optimized in microbial systems, leading to new,renewable sources for these platform chemicals. On the other hand, waste streams from forestry-based and paper recycling industries containing partially purified cellulosic materials can be used as feedstocks for the production of these compounds. This approach has many advantages: it reduces the costs associated with waste management; it creates value-added products and, potentially, new sources of revenues; it leads to reduced environmental footprints; and, thus, favors long-term sustainability. The proposed project builds on groundwork done through the Upcycled Aromatics iGEM-E project (UofA 2012) and aims at engineering a microbial strain for the production aromatic platform chemicals from waste streams coming from the pulp and paper and paper recycling industries.


Synthetic Biosystems for the Manufacture of Phenylalanine-Derived Pharmaceuticals and Specialty Chemical Ingredients

Peter Facchini (Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, U of A), Dominic Sauvageau (Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, U of A), Vincent Martin (Department of Biology, Concordia University)

Microbial metabolic engineering for the production of high-value biomolecules, or synthetic biology, is an emerging field aimed at the sustainable manufacture of chemicals currently derived from limited natural resources. Synthetic biology involves the transfer of metabolic pathways from rare or recalcitrant organisms to those that can be more readily engineered. The microbial production of biofuels, polymers, fragrances, flavors, nutriceuticals and pharmaceuticals using renewable starting materials such as lignocellulose-derived sugars circumvents the need for expensive, hazardous and non-renewable reagents. De novo pathway engineering relies on the availability of enzymes derived from organisms already producing relevant intermediates or products, such as plants or fungi. Plants produce a myriad of specialized metabolites and, thus, represent an invaluable resource for bioengineering strategies. The Ephedra plant produces the decongestant pseudoephedrine and contains enzymes with potential use in the microbial production of amphetamine analogues, including drugs widely used to treat depression, bupropion, Parkinson's disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Roses, among other plants, are the source of 2- phenylethanol used as a fragrance and flavor ingredient. Currently, manufacturing of these compounds relies on synthetic chemistry in combination, in some cases, with microbial fermentation. This collaborative research project aims to engineer microbial production systems using plant genes for the biosynthesis of pharmaceuticals, cosmetic ingredients, and valuable metabolic intermediates.