Bioprospecting and synthetic biology for novel microbial pigments based on Raman spectroscopy-guided single cell sorting

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Medical, Veterinary &Life Sci


Studentship strategic priority area:Synthetic Biology
Keywords: Raman spectroscopy, microfluidics, pigments, cyanobacteria, bioprospecting

Pigments have many applications in the pharma- and nutraceutical industry. The oceans offer a largely untapped, sustainable resource for novel pigments. Marine cyanobacteria have evolutionary adapted to a wide range of niches in the seabed, resulting in strain-specific pigment palettes that optimally harvest the available photosynthetic wavelengths while protecting the cells against photo-damage. Microbial bioprospecting is a promising route to expand product diversity in the high-value market (carotenoids and phycobilins).
The aims of this project are to
1. identify cyanobacterial strains in Scottish coastal waters that produce novel pigments,
2. identify the genes that underpin pigment production in the natural strains,
3. transfer them to a fast-growing lab strain for pathway optimization.
The student will collect seawater samples from the Scottish coast, and subject them to automated Raman spectroscopy-based cell-sorting, which allows single cells with promising spectral properties to be rescued for subsequent culturing in the lab. The established strains will be characterized using 'omics' technology to pinpoint the molecular entities underpinning pigment production. The student will then use a synthetic biology approach for pathway optimization in Synechococcus PCC 7002.
The student will receive training in marine phycology (SAMS, Oban), Raman spectroscopy and microfluidics (University of Glasgow, Engineering), omics technologies (Glasgow Polyomics) and molecular/synthetic biology (UofG, MVLS -MCSB).


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509668/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2021
1954250 Studentship EP/N509668/1 01/10/2017 29/09/2021 Jordan Donald Twigg
EP/R512266/1 30/09/2017 31/12/2022
1954250 Studentship EP/R512266/1 01/10/2017 29/09/2021 Jordan Donald Twigg
Description So far through this funded work it has been discovered that Raman Spectroscopy (an analytical technique) can be used as a high throughput system for screening single cells for the presence of carotenoid pigments within the sample. However, it has also been shown that closely related carotenoids cannot be identified in a mixed sample. Using two closely related strains of Cyanobacteria, we have evidence that using Raman Spectroscopy and investigating the carotenoid signal we can differentiate between these two strains.
Exploitation Route The outcomes so far indicate that Raman Spectroscopy can be used to sort environmental samples based on the presence of carotenoid content with downstream processing needed to identify the carotenoids and potentially discover novel pigments with potential uses in pharmaceuticals, industry and nutraceuticals.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology