The aim of the PROMICON project is to learn from nature how microbiomes function in order to steer their growth towards production of biopolymers, energy carriers, drop-in feedstocks and antimicrobial molecules. PROMICON will use existing microbiomes, which through the application of novel methods and top-down and bottom-up approaches, will be adjusted for industrial application.
Against this background, the project consortium is formed by various teams of leading international experts, as well as a group of ambitious early career researchers (ECRs), who are going to contribute to the fruitful development of PROMICON.
While PROMICONECRs are going to take on numerous tasks, most importantly they are going to focus specifically on certain top-notch research topics, such as the production of pigments from cyanobacteria, studying the environmental photosynthetic microbiomes to boost the production of bioproducts of industrial interest, the investigation of artificial microbial consortia, which like to attach themselves to a surface, and last but not least the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) and extracellular polysaccharides (EPS) by cyanobacteria microbiomes.
Learning from nature
For example, investigating how the environmental photosynthetic microbiomes boost the production of bioproducts is vital because the research will further allow the development of both molecular and genetic, as well as computational tools, enabling the optimisation of the bioproducts production. This research will help, gaining insights on how microbiomes form nature function and push their growth towards the bioprodutcs production. The characterisation of each microbiome will also help to identify which strains are needed for a successful bioproduction.
Figure 1 and 2: PhD student from the UPC team collecting environmental samples.
Cities of Slime
Furthermore, learning the specifics of the artificial microbial consortia is essential as they form a three dimensional structure, called biofilms, which are cells embedded in a polymeric matrix. “It can be thought of as a ‘City of Slime’, with houses, supermarkets, and restaurants” says Prof. Dr. Katja Buhler, leader of the Catalytic Biofilms group at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ).
Figure 3: Segmented flow for extraction of excess oxygen.
“The polymeric matrix serves as concrete, forming different habitats inside the city. The organisms then settle in areas, where they find shelter, food, and helpful friends to talk to. Living in such cities, the organisms become very robust against environmental stresses. The matrix provides shelter, a well filled fridge, and keeps them localized in one place. These are features, which are very interesting for developing a continuous bioprocess concept for productive biocatalysis, which is what we do. Use such structures for producing chemicals and energy carriers.”
Moreover, the PhD candidates from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), explain that by researching the production of pigments from cyanobacteria, they strive to gather data to valorize the natural consortia as potential sources of natural pigments. Hence, promising consortia culture conditions will be optimized in order to maximize pigment recovery.
As complex as it might sound, the ambitious research activities that the PROMICON ECRs are undertaking will build on each other and will contribute to the overall goal of the project to develop an efficient biotechnological production platform that creates a synergy between strain engineering strategies, with the robustness of microbiomes and their metabolic plasticity in organic conversions.
Figure 3 and 4: Phycobiliproteins (PBPs).