Polymer- & Environmental Biotechnology
Polymers are ubiquitous in our world – in clothings, as plastics in cars, in electronic goods, packages and much more. Most polymers and plastics are currently secondary products of the petroleum industry. Dwindling resources and problems with not satisfying recycling methods make it necessary to think of alternatives. acib explores the interaction between enzymes or microorganisms and plastics or biopolymers. The knowledge of this interaction allows us to develop new polymers and plastics that are biodegradable, that contain components made from renewable resources or with surfaces that have special properties.
Thus, a color reaction achieved by the installation of markers in the surface of bandage material can show, if a wound is infected under the bandage. A major risk factor in the clinical field is turned off in this way.
With the help of enzymes acib scientists control the release of certain substances from a polymer. We can also change the polymers themselves and provide them special properties. For example, wood is extremely water repellent after an enzymatic treatment. This makes wood for the first time usable as a material for working tops and floors in areas that require a high level of sterility, for example in the clinical environment.”
The possible applications of strategies around enzymes, microorganisms and polymers developed by acib are enormous. They range from applications in agriculture to new approaches in environmental engineering; for example in biohydrometallurgy which deals with recovering valuable metals from waste streams.
acib’s thematic focus lies on the adaptation and application of biocatalytic processes to functionalize, modify, recycle and degrade polymers as well as on environmental biotech applications employing enzymes, living cells and also complex cell populations in biofilms – or immobilized – on mineral materials in an industrial environment.
This involves the identification of novel enzymes and detailed mechanistic studies to allow a knowledge-based adaptation of these enzymes to the polymeric substrates. acib develops novel approaches in activity-based proteomics for the identification of new enzymes. This involves the establishment of a whole set of activity-based click-chemistry probes based on known covalent inhibitors specific for different enzyme classes to enable large scale discovery, substrate binding domain screening, characterization, subcellular localization and quantitative profiling of active enzymes.
The in silico screening of genomic databases and own next generation sequencing data is an another approach to identify novel enzymes acting on polymers and for polymer synthesis. The identified biocatalysts for polymer processing are then engineered for improved technological features; for example to adapt oxidoreductases to extreme environments such as for cross-linking polymers in drying films.
Several projects in the area aim at developing novel approaches for enzymatic surface functionalization while others focus on recycling of polymers like polyurethanes, polyesters or polyamides, their mixtures and composites. For the environmentally and increasingly economically important biotechnical recovery of metals from waste streams acib searches for a detailed understanding of microbial interactions in biofilms that is essential for selective functional immobilization of cellular populations, especially for anaerobic and aquatic processes, that are finally able to leach metals out of waste.