Carbon dioxide (CO2) emission is a massive problem for our climate; this is well-known. We urgently need measures to prevent earth from the big collapse. Where do we find them? Biotechnology offers some interesting solutions.
Scientists from the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) Vienna and the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) discovered a gene switch in yeast, that was able to change twelve genes – and thereby the metabolic process of yeast as a whole. This work explains evolutionary events that happened more than 120 million years ago. The results have recently been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications and have the potential to be used in the food and feed industry and for the production of bio fuels and new building blocks for bioplastics.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not only restricted to clinical environments, nor do they always pose an immediate danger for humans. Various environmental niches are occupied by complex microbial communities that also include members that can carry one or different antibiotic resistances. The plant microbiome often harbors highly competitive microorganisms that can shield of pathogens and contribute to the host’s health. In their latest study researchers from acib-partner TU Graz have focused on antibiotic resistances in a common salad plant and found that the indigenous enterobacterial community contributes to the highly interesting profile.
Sugar is not only a widely used food ingredient but can also be used as possible starting point for high-added-value products. The European research consortium of CARBAFIN explores different ways to make use of sugar beet biomass: the sugar components glucose and fructose are starting points for the production of important ingredients for not only food/feed but also cosmetics. Besides, fructose can be further converted to a platform chemical, which is applied to the production of bioplastics, biofuels or biopolymers, as well as resins. In other words, CARBAFIN people sweeten our lives!
Microorganisms play a crucial role for the health and well-being of higher organisms. Host-specific microbial communities of varying complexity form the so-called microbiota. It can consist of several thousand microbial species and includes bacteria, archaea and fungi. These microorganisms exchange a plethora of metabolites with their hosts and can modulate their functioning. Such interactions equally affect humans, animals and plants. This provides us with novel strategies to counteract various diseases and increase the resistance of higher organisms towards abiotic and biotic stresses by modulating the microbiota.
More than 32 Million tons of plastic waste end up in our environment per year. Most of it is non-degradable polyethylene, produced from about 8% of the global mineral oil resources. Researchers of the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology develop new biotechnological solutions to substitute critical processes. In the EU-funded project ROBOX, acib’s partners Uni Maastricht and Chemstream from Belgium have developed an approach to produce polyethylene biologically and sustainably from plant extracts. Enzyme-engineering can help to produce plastic without the use of harmful solvents.
The conventional treatment of wood in order to increase its hydrophobicity implies disadvantages that could be avoided when using environmentally-friendly processes. New methods that are increasingly being investigated use enzymes, like laccases, lipases and peroxidases in order to graft various molecules onto the wood surface to alter its properties.
Many bio-plastic bags have no place in the garbage. They dissolve too slowly in oxygen-deficient environments like biogas plants and when incinerated they are a burden to the environment. Enzymes offer a solution to this problem, accelerating degradation and avoid emissions. In the long run, the aim is to reduce plastic mountains and replace conventional packaging by bio-based Polymers.
The contamination of chicken eggs with fipronil led to a Europe-wide outcry in 2017. Although this specific case was not in compliance with current regulations, other treatments of hatching eggs with hazardous substances are still common. Contaminations of the eggshells with potentially animal-pathogenic microorganisms require fumigation with toxic chemicals for efficient breeding. Researchers evaluated an alternative decontamination method that is based on bacterial metabolites and showed that it is as efficient as conventional methods.
Enzymes are the tiny helpers of industrial biotechnology. Despite their microscopic size, they need to be tough and diligent because we want them to catalyze a broad range of reactions, ideally with the speed of light for ever after. In reality, however, many enzymes are like sensitive creatures, who need most careful attention and special treats to get their nicest behavior. Otherwise they might fade away like a tender flower in the blinking sun… and send the biotechnologists into terrible trouble. One strategy to find frugal enzymes is to look at thermophilic organisms. They sometimes harbor a treasure of more stable proteins because they are used to withstand somewhat unfriendly conditions such as high temperatures.