An international group of researchers led by Monash University is reshaping the industrial biomanufacturing sector by using environmentally destructive by-products such as methane and carbon dioxide to create medicines, consumables and industrial goods.
With the world moving towards greater accountability in sustainable production and clean energy generation, the manufacturing industry is expected to follow suit. The move to greater sustainability will see less reliance on energy-intensive and greenhouse gas emissions-heavy processes.
Biomanufacturing is a type of manufacturing process that uses biological matter to produce commercially important biomaterials and biomolecules for use in a range of areas including medicines, food and beverage processing, and industrial applications.
Industrial biomanufacturing currently relies heavily on sugar-containing growth media such as glucose and sucrose which are also used as foods. As biomanufacturing expands and accountability for sustainable practices increases, new and innovative compounds will be required to meet the expected growth.
While current methods of biomanufacturing using non-food sugar inputs are limited, an international group of researchers is reshaping industrial biomanufacturing and moving away from sugar-based options to find more sustainable alternatives.
Using genetic engineering techniques, researchers are looking at using manufacturing by-products that currently contribute to global warming, such as methane and carbon dioxide, then capturing these by-products and turning them into end products like vaccines, protein supplements, detergents and plastics that humans can use.
Ms Wei Jiang, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Monash University, is taking a sabbatical at Imperial College London, in the laboratory of Dr Rodrigo Ledesma-Amaro. Ms Jiang is researching this field, and is the lead author of a review into the potential and challenges of carbon compound biomanufacturing, published in Nature Chemical Biology.
“Shifting the input ingredients to carbon compounds offers both an abundance and low cost, as some of these like carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide, are currently waste products from many industries. There are also additional environmental benefits such as the prevention of carbon into the atmosphere, slowing the impact of global warming,” said Wei Jiang.
Monash lead researcher in the collaboration and Wei’s PhD supervisor, Associate Professor Victoria Haritos from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Monash University, says carbon compounds can either be naturally abundant, low-cost industrial by-products, or waste products that are widely available for use.
“The exploitation of carbon as an alternative input ingredient for biomanufacturing can improve sustainability through the environmental benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and the reduced cost of production. Engineering of carbon-utilising pathways into high performing biotechnology hosts combines the productivity of industrial microorganisms that can take full advantage of carbon compounds,” said Associate Professor Haritos.
Dr Rodrigo Ledesma-Amaro from Imperial College of London, said the advances in synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, and adaptive laboratory evolution have been key to developing synthetic carbon-utilising microbes.
“Further research into this field will open up an opportunity to shift biomanufacturing from sugar-based carbon sources to a sustainable, abundant non-food carbon source with low cost,” said Dr Ledesma-Amaro.
Researchers hope that the future use of carbon will see the development of carbon-based biomanufacturing, where synthetic carbon utiliser microbes are mature biotechnological platforms for converting these elements to various fuel and chemical products with high commercial value.
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