Accelerating Synthetic Biology Approaches to Renewable Chemicals and Fuels

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Life Sciences


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.


10 25 50
Description Brazil leads the world in terms of their expertise and facilities to bring about the large scale conversion of sugar (from sugar cane) into first generation bioethanol using yeasts. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing desire both to produce second generation ethanol as well as to expand product streams to higher value chemicals. This has led, in part, to an expansion of interests outside of the traditional yeast chassis and the consideration of alternative microbial chassis. These emerging objectives are best met through the implementation of Synthetic Biology approaches to chassis improvement and development. This is an area of science in which the UK is stronger, as its expertise is in a more diverse collection of microbial chassis, particularly Geobacillus and Clostridium. In the current proposal we intend to combine the activities of Brazilian Bioethanol Science and Technology Laboratory (CTBE) and the Universities of Campinas and Sao Paulo, with a the UK University of Nottingham (a BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre), and the University of Bath (leader of the BBSRC Network in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (NIBB) "Plants to Products". Through this amalgamation of complementary skills and expertise will emerge Brazil-UK partnerships able to bid to funding councils (eg., BBSRC, FAPESP, HORIZON 2020) for transnational projects aimed at developing new processes for making chemicals and fuels from biomass.

To push the partnership forward, two independent bids from the partnership have been made to the joint BBSRC-FAPESP call on advanced biofuels which closed on 25 November 2015. An exchange of students over the next couple of years is also planned.
Exploitation Route The award helped facilitate bids to a joint investment call between the BBSRC and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) to support collaborations between UK and Brazilian scientists in advanced biofuels research. A bid from Professor David Leak, University of Bath, working with Professor Telma Franco, Unicamp entitled "An integrated approach to explore a novel paradigm for biofuel production from lignocellulosic feedstocks", was successful.

Prior to the end of the award a workshop was held in Sao Paulo on "Sustainable Chemicals and Fuels Through Synthetic Biology" .

The continued use of fossil fuels is no longer tenable. A finite resource, their extraction, processing and exploitation results in environmental pollution and increased greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge facing global societies is to identify sustainable and cleaner processes for chemical, fuel and food production, while at the same time reducing GHG emissions, in particular CO2. Biological routes offer the most promising alternative where, to avoid conflict with the food chain, attention largely focusses on using waste, lignocellulosic biomass as the feedstock. However, its recalcitrance to deconstruction is making the development of economic processes extremely challenging.

Moreover, all currently used commercial, fermentative process are limited to the production of relatively few chemicals and fuels and all result in the net production of CO2. In the EU, for example, alcoholic fermentations annually produce 6-8 Mtons of CO2. Synthetic Biology has a major role to play in meeting current challenges through the engineering of microbial strains (chassis) that are better able to directly convert lignocellulosic biomass, or derivative feedstocks such as sugar-rich hydrolysates or synthesis gas, into a more comprehensive array of products in processes that minimise, or even eliminate, CO2 production.

At the workshop we explored the numerous options available, ranging from the: (i) microbial chassis available for manufacturing processes; (ii) most attractive chemical and fuel options; (iii) consideration of the most effective lignocellulose-derived feedstock; (iv) the identity of the most efficient strategy for minimising CO2 production, and; (v) the relative merits of the use of mono culture or synthetic communities.

A foolow-up meeting in the UK with representatives from Barzil and Argentina is currently being planned by the BBSRC.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description to early in the award for findings to have been used
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description 16- FAPESP-BE
Amount £1,491,026 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/P017460/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2021