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Harnessing the power of nature through productive microbial consortia in biotechnology

15 June 2021
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Newly funded EU Horizon 2020 project PROMICON will learn from nature how microbiomes function through development and application of quantitative physiology, imaging, cell sorting, machine learning, and systems biology

The deliberate control of complex microbiomes is notoriously difficult and current approaches are often guided by simple trial-and-error. The new Horizon 2020 project PROMICON - Harnessing the power of nature through PROductive MIcrobial CONsortia in biotechnology - measure, model, master (www.promicon.eu) will not only inspire completely new production pathways and a paradigm shift from monocultures to mixed cultures in biotechnology, but also has the potential to inspire novel treatment options in biomedicine beyond biotechnology.

A research team of leading scientists in the field of biotechnology joins forces to develop an efficient biotechnological production platform that creates synergy between strain engineering strategies with the robustness of microbiomes and their metabolic plasticity in organic conversions. The project brings together experts and scientists from 10 institutions from 7 European countries. 

‘Having worked in the field of biotechnology for over 15 years, focussing mainly on pure cultures, I believe today that a combination of systems and synthetic biology with the resilience of microbial communities has huge potential to address great challenges of our time. We now have reached a technology stage, where we can amalgamate the best of both worlds, microbial cooperation and target compound production. Mastering this process in a productive way is the overarching aim of PROMICON, and I’m honoured to have such a great team on board’, comments PROMICON coordinator Dr. Jens Krömer from Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ.

PROMICON will learn from existing microbiomes in nature and then use the knowledge for new industrial applications. By using a top-down approach, PROMICON will develop and optimise existing microbiomes from nature for the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), exo-polysaccharides (EPS), phycobiliproteins (PPP) usable in the materials and biomaterials sectors, as well as pigments for the feed and food industry. By using a bottom-up approach, new synthetic productive microbiomes will be generated through an iterative design-build-test-learn cycle using systems metabolic engineering. These microbial consortia inspired by natural microbiomes will be used for the biotechnological production of butanol and hydrogen for the chemical and fuel industry and functionalized bacterial polyester (antimicrobial PHACOS). The synthetic consortia will include identified primary producers (farmers), secondary converters (labourers) and essential strains for microbiome stability (balancers).

The new concepts developed in PROMICON will have a transformational character for the bio-economy sector. A dedicated policy user corner will be made available on the project’s website, ensuring latest updates to policy. PROMICON will demonstrate exploitation efforts to facilitate early and active engagement throughout the project with relevant broad stakeholders (end-users, regulator/policymakers, investors, etc).

The project will hold its official kick-off meeting on 17 and 18 June. In an effort to provide a safe environment in the face of COVID-19, the start of the four-year research and innovation action will take place in an entirely online environment.

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This project receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 101000733.