Engineering microbial communities for the conversion of lignocellulose into medium-chain carboxylates

Project overview

Project lead: Daniel Machado
Institution: Norwegian University of Science and Technology(NTNU)
Funding: Total amount (from ERA CoBio Tech) is 2 million EUR. The amount for the project (Norwegian partner) is 382K EUR
Duration: 01.07.2021 - 30.06.2024
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Coming soon here.

One of the major challenges of today’s society is the shift from fossil-based industry towards renewable resources. The Cell4Chem project addresses this challenge by harnessing the power of microbial communities and enable transformation processes that result in high-value products from sustainable feedstocks. Medium-chain carboxylates (MCC) such as caproate and caprylate are specialty chemicals with broad application that can be produced by anaerobic fermentation of complex biomass. Palm and coconut oil are currently the major sources of these two chemicals, with a significant environmental and social impact

Currently, the utilization of sustainable feedstocks is mostly limited to biomass with high ethanol or lactate content, as such electron donors are crucial for reaching efficient MCC production. The exploitation of more abundant lignocellulosic biomass has the potential of greatly expanding the application of this new anaerobic fermentation technology, however, it harbors two major bottlenecks, the poor hydrolysis of cellulose and low internal production of lactate.

Cell4Chem tackles these issues on three engineering levels. First, different strains will be genetically modified to create metabolic specialists for cellulose hydrolysis and lactate production. Second, these specialized strains will be combined into synthetic consortia with chain-elongating bacteria that can convert lactate into MCC. Third, anaerobic bioreactors will be operated with tailored upscaling strategies for the most promising designed consortia. The communities will be monitored over time using multi-omics methods in order to follow community dynamics and performance. These data will be further processed by bioinformatic tools to construct mechanistic microbial community models to elucidate metabolic interactions and screen for optimal community compositions.

This project will result in multiple outcomes that provide a complete toolbox to address other potential processes for the valorisation of lignocellulosic biomass, namely the strains engineered for lignocellulose degradation, the consortia optimized for MCC production, and a workflow combining experimental and computational methods for building omics data-driven models and optimizing microbial consortia.