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Bacteria growing on light and air: a revolution for biotechnology?

Research to experiment with bacteria that grow like plants has been granted the NWO XS grant. These bacteria use light and carbon dioxide to grow, and will be designed especially for use in the biotechnological field. Tijn Delzenne and his supervisor Dennis Claessen can spend 50.000 euros on the experiment.

Biotechnology is a rapidly growing field, in which researchers create organisms that are able to aid us in all kinds of tasks. ‘It is already possible to use bacteria to clean up oil spills, make biofuel and produce compounds like antibiotics and bioplastics,’ Delzenne explains about biotechnology. ‘In some cases industrial-scale biotechnology is even the leading mode of production, like with antibiotic production. No viable chemical production have been established.’

Biotechnology in competition with the food industry

While biotechnologie has shown to be very promising, the industry is hindered by a major drawback. ‘Industrially used bacteria often grow on sugar rich medium, causing the need for a substantial amount of sugar,’ Delzenne continues. ‘These sugars are still predominantly obtained from crops, leading to a direct competition with the food industry for the usage of farmland. This unsustainable practice thus needs to be altered.’

Bacteria like plants

Claessen en Delzenne will use the NWO funding to research the introduction of photosynthesis, much like plants undergo, into industrially used organisms. With this, they could create a sustainable bioproduction of compounds using light and carbon dioxide. 

‘There is a need for this type of research.’

Claessen: ‘The project finds its grounds in the combination of my expertise in cell-wall-deficient cells, with knowledge about photosynthetic cyanobacteria that Tijn obtained during studies abroad. For the past months we have been closely working together to transform this idea into a well-established plan. Receiving such a response to this proposal has shown us the validity and need for this research and gives a great amount of drive to get started!’

About the NWO ENW-grant

In the NWO Open Competition Domain Science researchers can apply individually or in collaboration for curiosity-driven, fundamental research in the research fields of the NWO Domain Science (ENW).

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