GET IN TOUCH WITH THE WORLD OF BIOTECH

Biotechnology is omnipresent in our days. Just thinking of a pharmacy, many products are produced biotechnologically. Measures against the climate change or the greenhouse effect as well as increasing efforts in the treatment of diseases and medical healthcare are unthinkable without biotech. But what is biotechnology and how does it work? Who are the people behind? How far does biotechnology concern my own enterprise or me as an individual? And maybe most important: how are the investments into biotechnological research used and what happens with the taxpayer’s money in public funded science? 

The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) is active in R&D in a huge European and also global network and feels obliged to communicate its recent technological achievements and ongoing activities to its manifold stakeholder community. We are anxious to translate our scientific contents into generally understandable posts and, thus, make science more transparent and more tangible for a broader public. Science in the field of biotechnology can be fascinating; everybody needs it in a certain way – we invite you to get aware of what biotechnology can do for you!

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Gesund und fit durchs Schuljahr – Kinder erforschen Lebensmittel

Gesund und fit durchs Schuljahr – Kinder erforschen Lebensmittel

Im Rahmen des Talente Regional Projekts „Food for Tomorrow“, gefördert durch das Bundesministerium für Verkehr, Innovation und Technologie (BMVIT), wurden Versuche und Experimente mit Schülern und Schülerinnen rund um das Thema Lebensmittel, an zwei oberösterreichischen Volksschulen durchgeführt.

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If a pig’s stomach is on strike…

If a pig’s stomach is on strike…

Pink, fat and healthy – that’s how we visualize the ideal pig. But what if Pink Beauty’s stomach is upset? There can be a range of consequences from stress to enteritis, from reduced fattening performance for the industry to a decline of meat quality for the consumer. In a recent survey conducted by the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences and IPUS GmbH Rottenmann, scientists sort to find out how acidification during feed digestion can be managed and which natural feed additives support animal health and welfare.

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Enzymatic functionalization – The environmentally friendly way to treat wood

Enzymatic functionalization – The environmentally friendly way to treat wood

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.

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A new, nature-based method to reduce microbe-caused spoilage of meat products

A new, nature-based method to reduce microbe-caused spoilage of meat products

Meat is very fastidious and resource-demanding in its production, still the wastage of spoiled meat products is enormous. Nowadays, a plethora of preservation techniques is available, but many of them cannot fulfill consumer’s demands or are not implementable for industrial production. We evaluated a novel method that is based on bacterial metabolites, which are produced by highly competitive microorganisms that colonize plants and protect them from pathogens. The conducted analyses lead to the conclusion that the microbial load in certain meat products can be significantly reduced by applying nature-based diazine derivatives that are typical metabolites of such beneficial bacteria.

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The long night of research LNF18 – a huge success

The long night of research LNF18 – a huge success

Co-author: Sabrina Mayer-Maschl

On Friday, April 13th 2018, it was time to experience the world of science and research! Despite the not very promising date, the organizers expected a large number of visitors to come. During the 8th Long Night of Research, Austria’s largest nationwide research event, current science projects, new findings and technologies were presented in understandable and entertaining ways. With 228.000 visitors a new record was achieved. This shows the steadily growing interest in the research topics of the future.

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The acib science blog celebrates its first anniversary!

The acib science blog celebrates its first anniversary!

It’s already been a year since the acib science blog was officially launched. Birthdays are a good time to reflect, and the last year have given us much to reflect on! When the acib blog was still in its infancy, Katrin Weinhandl, former chief editor and one of the initiators of this project, played a decisive role by setting up a well thought-through editorial plan to transform scientific content into understandable posts. After she left the company, she introduced us (Olivia Laggner and Sabrina Mayer-Maschl) to become the new chief editors.

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Advanced technologies for greener processes

Advanced technologies for greener processes

Among global problems, shortage of water resources is considered one of the grand challenges humankind is facing. With growing industries, water consumption and wastewater treatment becomes more problematic. As the large-scale production of biopharmaceuticals increases worldwide, this industry sector has to develop strategies to minimize the environmental footprint as well.

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Top 8 recommendations for a start-up

Top 8 recommendations for a start-up

This is the first article in a row of articles about entrepreneurship and financing in life science. They are supposed to spot issues that may come up with starting up a business and structuring the financing and can be used as a hands-on guide through the challenges that may emerge when switching from science to business.

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All-purpose protein purification

All-purpose protein purification

Most of the active components in drugs either are compounds obtained by chemical synthesis or biomolecules produced by microorganisms (often proteins), which are then called biopharmaceuticals. When we talk about biomolecule production it can be separated into two sections: the up- and downstream-process. The main focus of an upstream-process lies on the preparation of the host cells and their fermentation. After a successful production the target protein needs to be separated from impurities. Protein purification – the downstream process – is an important procedure used to produce biomolecules in a highly pure form for the use in human healthcare.

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Inducing injuries to study microfluidic migration and wound healing

Inducing injuries to study microfluidic migration and wound healing

The body of a human adult consists of 1014 or 100 trillion of cells, which have specific tasks to fulfil. As a reaction to biological signals or environmental cues, cells can start to move. Many questions about cell migration still remain unclear. The acib researchers Christian Jungreuthmayer and Jürgen Zanghellini were involved in developing a micro-device, which mechanically induces defined injuries to analyse microfluidic migration and wound healing.

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Plastic bags that cannot breathe

Plastic bags that cannot breathe

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.

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Introducing a safer treatment for hatching eggs

Introducing a safer treatment for hatching eggs

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.

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Enzymes from thermophiles outperform related proteins

Enzymes from thermophiles outperform related proteins

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.

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New Year’s Eve fireworks display – a footprint in the air?

New Year’s Eve fireworks display – a footprint in the air?

First of all, welcome in 2018 and a happy new year full of interesting success stories of biotech! Hopefully, you had a good time with your family and friends and found some time to relax? Certainly, many of us also enjoyed a colorful fireworks display to get into the new year. But – as we all know – fireworks are causing air pollution.

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Novel esterases to tackle the plastic wastage

Novel esterases to tackle the plastic wastage

Plastic – the material of our time – is omnipresent. As the production is steadily increasing, its recycling lags behind. What if enzymes like esterases could make a change?

While bringing about a sustainable life style will not get around reducing plastic usage, responsible resource management also necessitates the implementation of circular economy. As for that, the European Union established the Circular Economy Package. It made plastic one of the five priorities to be targeted and calls for novel and improved recycling processes. And, (bio)-chemical recycling using esterases might just be the method to boost our resource efficiency.

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Yeast Exit – the mystery of secretion in Pichia pastoris

Yeast Exit – the mystery of secretion in Pichia pastoris

Yeast cells are important workhorses for the “green” production of various chemicals and proteins. In many cases the biotechnological industry favours the secretive production of their target compounds, because of lower costs for purification and less complicated downstream processing. But the way from an intracellularly produced protein through the cellular secretion machinery to the outside of the cell is very long and hides numerous obstacles.  Researchers all over the world are looking for methods to overcome these hurdles  – so do acib researchers.

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Reasons for the popularity of microbiome research and future perspectives

Reasons for the popularity of microbiome research and future perspectives

Following our articles on the beneficial roles of complex microbial communities and ways to analyze them, we continue to explore this groundbreaking research field. Here we shed light on reasons why microbiome research has become so popular and why it is still gaining ground.

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Changing the production of next-generation-biopharmaceuticals

Changing the production of next-generation-biopharmaceuticals

There are a multitude of challenges associated with the production of next-generation biopharmaceuticals and vaccines. To be effective as a public health tool, vaccines for example are increasingly administered in form of a combination of more than one component and produced in large scale by means of seed viruses. These are living pathogens that multiply in cells from chicken eggs. The rule of thumb “one vaccine dose per egg” means that the number of vaccines is limited to 150 to 200 million available eggs worldwide. Formerly used alternative platforms – such as vaccine production in cell cultures (e.g. mammalian cells) – also have the disadvantage of instability. A new platform technology for the production of the most diverse proteins in an optimised process could be the answer.

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CO2-conversion to energy carriers by Microbial Electrosynthesis

CO2-conversion to energy carriers by Microbial Electrosynthesis

Microorganisms for energy – does it work? And how could this be connected with CO2 conversion? Microorganisms particularly gained interest in carbon capture and utilization research due to the ability to convert CO2 to a broad range of possible valuable products and fuels. Application of such microorganisms has become highly attractive as several different strains of pure as well as mixed cultures of microorganisms are suitable for application in biofuel and biochemical generation.

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A small step at the microscale, one giant leap for a production process

A small step at the microscale, one giant leap for a production process

Co-author: Verena Beck

While for scaling up a production process the main goal is to keep the quality and quantity of a product stable, scaling-down is often used for troubleshooting and testing unit operations. At the microscale various process parameters such as temperatures, buffer additives or mixing conditions can be tested much faster and with lower material consumption compared to large scale. Researchers of acib investigated the most crucial parameters affecting the mixing behaviour at the microscale and how mixing of fluids in small scale can be compared to large vessels.

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Plant defense as a biotech tool

Plant defense as a biotech tool

Some plants protect themselves with cyanide against voracious beetles, caterpillars or cattle, who want to nibble their delicious looking leaves. Everyone knows that cyanide is really toxic: In Agatha Christies murder stories the murderers take their victim’s breath with ‘sparkling cyanide’: a bit of innocent looking white powder potassium cyanide mixed into sparkling wine. Plants produce this poison with the help of enzymes when the plant is chewed.

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Genetic engineering of fungi now simplified

Genetic engineering of fungi now simplified

Fungi are ubiquitous organisms which have made a beneficial contribution to human development. This association dates back to 3000 B.C. when it is believed that for the first time, Egyptians used yeast for baking bread and brewing beer. Later with the discovery of penicillin from Penicillium chrysogenum, fungal antibiotics gained widespread use in treatment of infections. In the research field too, fungi serve as a model for genetics and cell biology. Filamentous fungi are known for secreting huge amounts of secondary metabolites like enzymes, organic acids, cyclosporins, and steroids. These valuable compounds have vast applications in several industries such as food, beverages, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. A well-known filamentous fungi is Aspergillus niger, an industrial workhorse for production of high titers of organic acids and enzymes.

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Microbiome-on-a-chip: future in vitro simulation systems

Microbiome-on-a-chip: future in vitro simulation systems

What if we had a system mirroring the cross-talk between microbes and complex ‘super-organisms’ like humans or animals? Understanding the relationships between hosts and commensal bacteria might help fighting gut flora associated chronic diseases such as diabetes type II, Morbus Crohn, Colitis Ulcerosa. By that, the necessity for multifaceted medication could be cut and animal trials reduced. Establishing unique microbiome-databases, personal tests are thinkable and the creation of individual ‘avatars’ possible. Furthermore, animal-specific chips could mimic diverse livestock groups. The future not only lies, but also fits in our hand with a microbiome-on-a-chip lab device. 

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The big casting of enzymatic functions

The big casting of enzymatic functions

The mankind flies to the moon, explores the universe – but still on earth there is much more unexplored matter than we are aware of. Bioprospecting is a discipline, where new products and processes are discovered based on natural resources. The big ideas and innovations for industrial processes are right in front of us – we just have to observe nature and – which is the difficulty – recognize them.

The principle of bioprospecting in the field of biocatalysis reminds us a bit of a casting for a good movie: You are looking for a special enzymatic function? Then give it a try and screen for it in a particular (unexplored) habitat. acib researchers used this principle and discovered two new proteins with an amine transaminase function.

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New approaches for biological control of plant pathogens

New approaches for biological control of plant pathogens

Beneficial microorganisms present a promising alternative to conventional plant protection and could replace chemical pesticides in the near future. Plant pathogens are responsible for various devastating plant diseases and lead to huge yield losses caused by pre- and postharvest spoilage.

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Bioplastics to energy – untapped waste streams in anaerobic digestion

Bioplastics to energy – untapped waste streams in anaerobic digestion

Complex, recalcitrant polymers represent a barrier in the biodegradation process during anaerobic digestion (AD) towards biogas production. This concerns both, biopolymers from plant waste as well as synthetic polymeric plastics entering biogas plants as packaging material with food waste. Therefore, microbial populations and their enzymes involved in the hydrolysis of lignocellulose-rich plant material and modified polyesters are investigated to develop a strategy to biologically boost the conversion of waste to bioenergy by tailor-made microbial communities and bioaugmentation.

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Functional Metagenomics – On the hunt for novel products

Functional Metagenomics – On the hunt for novel products

Natural products play a vital role in our everyday life- say in detergents, for the food and beverage production or in medicine. For the discovery of new natural products of bacteria a methodology called functional metagenomics opens up new possibilities.

Nature holds in store a mere incredibly large number of unexplored bioactive molecules- hidden treasures whose biotechnological potential is yet to be discovered. This is especially the case for bacterial metabolites. Despite novel cultivation methodologies, only 2-5 % of all bacteria are easily cultured in the laboratory. Thus, just a minor fraction of bacterial molecules is exploited in pharma and biotech industries, while most bacteria remain a treasure chest out of bounds. A promising means to get hold of the hidden treasures is functional metagenomics.

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Connecting Carbon: The Friedel-Crafts acylation goes biocatalytic

Connecting Carbon: The Friedel-Crafts acylation goes biocatalytic

Follow up with the second article of “Connection carbon”. Missed to read the first part? Here you go!

Among numerous carbon-carbon coupling reactions in organic synthesis, the Friedel-Crafts acylation enables the direct connection of aromatic compounds with carbonyl moieties. It is therefore one of the most popular chemical transformations and extensively used. The resulting products- aromatic ketones- are valuable building blocks and relevant to a range of industrial sectors, including the pharmaceutical, biotechnological and fine chemical industry. ACIB pioneers in developing a biocatalytic equivalent for this fundamental reaction, thereby exploiting a so-far little investigated cofactor-independent acyltransferase. But why considering enzymes to do this reaction?

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Robust enzymes – the main requirement for industrial applications

Robust enzymes – the main requirement for industrial applications

Products derived from industrial biotechnology often compete with chemical processes. But what are the main aspects for successful applications of industrial biotechnology in manufacturing? Processes should be fast, cost-efficient and – from technological point of view – biocatalysts and enzymes need to deal with harsh process conditions.

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A quick glance at tools that revolutionize our understanding of complex microbial communities

A quick glance at tools that revolutionize our understanding of complex microbial communities

In the past years the advent of microbiome research was facilitated by a tremendous decrease in DNA sequencing costs. The progression of sequencing technology and the growing demand for large datasets (beyond the size of the human genome) enabled this favorable progress, which even surpassed Moore’s Law. There are various technologies that benefited from these developments and many of them have a set position in modern laboratories.

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Enzymes for Detoxification – a Matter of Life and Death

Enzymes for Detoxification – a Matter of Life and Death

Although we live in a world that is more developed than ever, toxins are omnipresent in our environment. During evolution, the human bodies developed ways to cope with many harmful compounds; most of them are degraded enzymatically. A project at the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) revealed new insights into life saving processes – especially into the enzymatic detoxification by a special class of enzymes called flavin containing monooxygenases (FMO).

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Wound status monitoring: rapid detection of infections

Wound status monitoring: rapid detection of infections

Infections in wounds concern about 2% of the population in developed countries at least once in their lifetime. These kinds of infections can lead to serious complications such as sepsis and need to be diagnosed as fast as possible. But how to find out in a fast way, if a wound is infected?

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Creative Ways to Improve Enzymes

Creative Ways to Improve Enzymes

In our days, enzymes are highly important vehicles that are used to synthesize valuable chemical compounds. However, the optimization of enzymes, a key discipline in industrial biotechnology, struggles because of natural limitations. A new approach to overcome those restrictions is the high-level production of synthetic proteins containing non-canonical amino acids as performed in the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology.

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How to prepare flavors and fragrances by enzymes

How to prepare flavors and fragrances by enzymes

Flavors and fragrances are constant companions in our daily life. We find them in food and in cosmetics, and of course, the demand for natural ingredients instead of chemicals is increasing. A special group of enzymes allows us to produce these valuable compounds from raw materials.

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Connecting Carbon: Two-enzyme cascade to produce pharmaceutically interesting para-coumaric acids

Connecting Carbon: Two-enzyme cascade to produce pharmaceutically interesting para-coumaric acids

Welcome to the first of two articles about “Connection Carbon“.

Carbon-carbon bonds are the basis for all vital organic molecules, which makes them attractive building blocks for e.g. pharmaceuticals, fragrances, flavors and many others. The key to an efficient and green production thereof are specific enzymes.

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Virus like particle – It looks like a virus, but it is not a virus: Advantage or disadvantage?

Virus like particle – It looks like a virus, but it is not a virus: Advantage or disadvantage?

Virus like particles are important tools in the medical field for vaccination or drug delivery systems. They mimic the outside structure of a virus but cannot reproduce themselves anymore. The purification thereof is still a challenge, but some techniques are published already.

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The increasing potential of Chinese hamster ovary cells

The increasing potential of Chinese hamster ovary cells

CHO cells are an important workhorse for the biotechnological production of pharmaceuticals. Inspite of its long tradition in biotechnological application there is still room to improve the stability of cell lines, which is a research topic at acib. 

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Hidden helpers: How microorganisms contribute to our health and well-being

Hidden helpers: How microorganisms contribute to our health and well-being

Microorganisms are ubiquitously present, even if we do not notice them. Some of them are pathogenic, but most of them are essential for our well-being and health. Researchers found out that communities of microorganisms are even able to protect plants, which is a crucial step for agriculture.

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Electronic waste – Final destination or secondary heavy metal source?

Electronic waste – Final destination or secondary heavy metal source?

Any idea, how we can get rid of our electronic waste? Maybe, bioleaching is the answer. This process is an interesting biotechnological alternative to the conventional chemical leaching. The hero of this process is an iron-oxidizing organism, called Acidithiobacillus ferroxidans.

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