Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Greenifying industrial biotechnology through the creation of synthetic endosymbionts

Is it possible to synthesize industrially relevant compounds in a sustainable manner through the use of light-capturing cyanobacteria?

2023 - 2024
Dennis Claessen
NWO XS grant NWO XS grant

Prof. Dr. Ilka Axmann (Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf)

Two decades after the first establishment of synthetic biology as a research field, it has grown to encompass countless research topics and shaped a rapidly growing worldwide market. Through the creation and genetic adaptation of biological systems, designed to perform novel functions, organisms can be altered to help in countless ways. While this opens exciting possibilities for large-scale bioproduction of medication, plastics and numerous other compounds, growth of the compound-producing organisms requires large amounts of sugar-rich media. Since the major sources of these sugars are derived from crops, this industrial use reduces the availability of much-needed farming land. The currently used practices are therefore unsustainable and involve substantial, unnecessary emissions. The solution to this problem can be found in light-harvesting cyanobacteria. Like plants, these bacteria contain systems allowing them to take up environmental light and carbon dioxide and use it as energy for metabolic processes and growth. However, introduction of cyanobacteria as a green drop-in replacement is often not feasible. For instance, the production of antibiotics is highly species-specific, and efforts to transfer production to unrelated species is mostly unsuccessful. Therefore, the aim of this research is to introduce the ‘green’ metabolism of cyanobacteria in bacteria specialized in antibiotic synthesis. To this end, we will create a synthetic endosymbiont consisting of a cyanobacterium residing inside an antibiotic-producing cell.

Graphical abstract (Tijn Delzenne)
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