Molecular engineering of high activity multifunctional biometallic catalysts for clickable chemistries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Earth Atmospheric and Env Sciences


BioMetCat brings together a unique group of world-renowned academics to develop an entirely new approach to
making high value chemicals for a range of industries (including pharmaceuticals), in the vibrant and rapidly developing area of "industrial biotechnology". Using naturally occurring bacteria, that have been genetically manipulated to accumulate nano-scale clusters of with powerful catalytic metals, alongside enzymes that can transform target chemicals, we will produce novel "biometallic catalysts" that can potentially transform strategic areas of the high value UK chemicals sector. The work will be based on complementary skills of biologists, chemists and analysts, using the latest techniques from biology and the physical sciences and will develop novel solutions, that can turn waste metal streams into high value materials for a wide range of industries via simple "one-pot" processes that are currently not available.

Technical Summary

Aims BioMetCat will deliver a novel extension of synthetic biology, using a combination of new microbial strains to synthesise nano-scale inorganic catalysts, stabilised against agglomeration problems that beset traditional manufacture, and augmented by highly tunable and adapted biocatalysts in hybrid "biometallic" systems to deliver clickable chemistry reactions.
Key Deliverables from this project will include; (1) new microbial strains optimised to synthesise highly catalytically active metallic NPs, (2) new information on the range of industrially important reactions that can be catalyzed by metallic bioNPs, including Cu-NPs and precious metal-NPs, (3) novel tandem "biometallic" catalysts for multistep click chemistries, (4) new SERS monitoring techniques optimised for industrial biotechnology and (5) improved knowledge of microbial metal resistance mechanisms. These outputs will be documented in high impact publications and support new industrial links fostered by the vibrant BBSRC NIBB communities, extending from the IB to the environmental sectors.

Planned Impact

This proposal will address key industrial challenges currently bottlenecking commercial activities. These will include novel "one-pot" and tandem/multi-step processes retro-fittable onto conventional or existing chemistries, minimising catalyst losses, extending catalyst lifetimes and potentially generating value products from wastes (e.g. Cu-containing wastewaters). These challenges restrict ALL chemical industries, i.e. representing ubiquitous (and pressing) needs to develop novel reactions, extending structures available to the pharmaceutical industry and the agrochemicals & fine/specialty sectors. The importance of addressing these challenges is illustrated by the prediction that the proportion of IB processes within industrial chemistry is thought to increase to 20% by 2015 (Source: Horizon 2020 EU Framework Programme). The PI and CoI collaborate extensively with representatives of many major UK and other international phamaceutical companies, and also mining and water industries, and we will maximize our impact into these industries using (1) contacts developed in the BBSRC NIBBs, to which we belong and (2) the Centre of Excellence for Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biomanufacture (CoEBio3) of which Turner is director. Given the importance of these sectors to the UK, improved processes will make a clear contribution to economic competitiveness.
Relevant UK government stakeholders also derive benefit in general from successful developments in Industrial Biotechnology, as these help to publicise the benefits of investing in IB and also inform the development of future policy, and to facilitate this we will communicate outputs through various routes including Bioscience KTN activities. Finally, we will engage with the wider public to inform them of our progress. As consumers of pharmaceutical products (and fine chemcials), the public benefits from the more efficient production of these materials, and also from the development of new products that can be accessed using new technology. Public engagement will use established programmes developed within our groups, including school visits and events at science festivals and blogging activities as well as media engagement and political engagement will be fostered via SET for Britain and Science in Parliament.

Milestones and measures of success will include:
Destination of PDRAs- we have a strong track record of developing the career paths of our PDRAs and PhDs, including senior positions in industry and academia.
Closer engagement with industry including potential project partners such as Johnson Matthey (catalyst production), the chemical and phamaceutical industries, and water/mining companies with metallic waste streams (Cu, precious metals) that require treatment/revalorization.
Development of clear follow-on funding opportunities and IP development as appropriate.


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Description Copper nanoparticles have been synthesised successfully by metal-reducing bacteria and shown (for the first time) to catalyse "Click chemistry" reactions (Kimber et al., 2018 Small 1703145 DOI: 10.1002/smll.201703145)
Exploitation Route Companies with metal-containing wastes may benefit from the techniques we are developing (e.g. for copper recovery from dilute streams).
The fine chemical and pharma industries may benefit from the metallic bionanocatalysts that we are developing.
We are working with industrial stakeholders in both areas, linked to this grant.
Sectors Chemicals,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Copper recovery and valorisation of distillery wastes using biogenic magnetic nanoparticles
Amount £32,955 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 09/2019
Description Press release from publication 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press release by Diamond Light Source relating to publication which was shared by other media organisations online ( Press release aimed to inform wider scientific audience and general public on green production of catalysts with the potential to use waste sources as the feed stock as well as highlight the role played by Diamond Light Source in the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Talk at Manchester Pint of Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk at Manchester Pint of Science event to discuss impacts of research with general public. Aim to to raise awareness of dwindling resources and need to develop a circular economy. About 40 people attended the event. Numerous questions were asked by the public in Q&A session after the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018