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How can we build a better production system for bacterial enzymes – streptomycetes to be precise? And how can we produce bacterial enzymes in a system that already works fine, namely fungi? Thanks to the winning European project proposal FILAZYME, TNO, Leiden University and three international partners are setting out to answer these questions.
The biotechnology industry has a major need for new technology to produce raw materials from biomass, for example for green fuels or food products. This requires enzymes that break down the biomass completely, releasing as many useful raw materials as possible – no easy task. TNO’s Peter Punt explains: ‘We’re very good at making enzymes from fungi. But if you want to make enzymes from bacteria there’s a problem: a lot of bacteria only separate out a few of the enzymes. That’s unfortunate, as bacterial enzymes are very promising under the process conditions in industry, for instance in high-temperature processes.’
Punt, who is also a professor at Leiden University, has come up with a smart solution in collaboration with Erik Vijgenboom, who also works there. ‘If we could bridge the gap by producing the bacterial enzymes in fungi we might be able to solve the problem. We recently discovered a new kind of secretion route in fungi that might be suitable for bacterial proteins. That provided one piece of the jigsaw, and brought us to the second piece: if you look at what organisms do produce a lot of enzymes, it’s bacteria in the streptomycete category. They live in the soil but grow in the form of threads rather than separate cells. So we’re talking about two filamentous (thread-forming) organisms. Erik’s working on streptomycetes and I’m working on fungi, a very interesting partnership.’
TNO and Leiden University submitted a wining project proposal to the European industrial biotechnology programme ERA-IB, entitled ‘Novel approaches to develop filamentous micro-organisms for enzyme production (FILAZYME)’. To ensure that the knowledge will be available to the European economy they have sought partners in three different countries − WeissBioTech in France, H2Biyotek in Turkey and CSIC in Spain. Punt comments: ‘It’s a great consortium of partners in interesting niche markets. Of the one million euros available we have been given 250,000 euros from the Dutch budgets through NWO Chemical Sciences. We’re very happy with that, as there was a lot of competition.’
‘What I particularly like about this project, is that it combines different technologies’, Punt concludes. ‘Fungi and streptomycetes are both organisms that occur in the soil by nature, where they create a natural consortium. What we’re building is a synthetic consortium taking advantage of the properties of both organisms, which we intend to apply. That hasn’t been considered in industrial biotechnology hitherto. It’s an interesting angle: we’re investigating the usefulness of different partners in the ecosystem and combining them. This project brings us another step closer to the future of complex industrial biotechnology. I cordially invite companies that have questions about the applications of our idea to specific enzymes to get in touch with us.’