£13 million for biotechnology research to address environmental challenges

The Centre for Environmental Biotechnology (CEB) at Bangor University is part of a new research centre, the first of its kind in the UK, being formed to enhance and develop the natural abilities of micro-organisms in cleaning up our planet.

Tackling environmental pollutants and waste using microbes, the new centre is being established with £13m of funding from UK Research and Innovation’s Technology Missions Fund and support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The Environmental Biotechnology Innovation Centre (EBIC), led by Cranfield University, brings together scientists from ten leading UK institutions, including Bangor University, in a mission to advance the properties and functions of micro-organisms, creating more effective ways to monitor the environment and remove pollutants.

Bangor University says their team will be led by Professor of Biotechnology Peter Golyshin, who will co-lead the research in environmental bioremediation, which uses engineering of micro-organisms for degrading stubborn organic pollutants, including hydrocarbons or polyfluoroalkyl substances found in coatings of furniture, in textiles, adhesives and non-stick cooking surfaces.

New biodegrading enzymes and pathways will be identified and integrated into metabolic networks of microorganisms to enhance the breakdown of pollutants.

The Bangor University team (Professors Peter Golyshin, Alexander Yakunin and Davey Jones) will also contribute to the development of processes of wastewater treatment and metal recovery using engineered microbes and metal binding proteins.

Frederic Coulon, Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology at Cranfield University and EBIC Project Lead, said “They may be tiny, but micro-organisms have ‘superhero’ properties which give them enormous potential to have a positive impact on our world.

“Using advanced technologies, the research team will create entirely new organisms or enhance the functions of existing ones. By doing this, we can design micro-organisms that are better suited for environmental tasks like converting waste into valuable resources.”

Working together from lab to field applications, scientists involved in the five year project will examine ways to develop micro-organisms to target and mitigate negative impacts from polluting substances like plastic waste, hydrocarbons, metals and oil. Microorganisms will not only be used to clean up hazardous and toxic pollutants from the environment, but also to help regenerate or recycle waste.

Cutting edge techniques from synthetic biology, biotechnology and environmental engineering will be used. With a focus on responsible and ethical research practices, the research team is set to examine and develop new ways to tackle three key areas:

  • Next-generation biosensing for environmental monitoring and surveillance
  • Bioremediation targeting environmental pollutants, promoting cleaner and healthier ecosystems
  • Enhanced wastewater and waste management to improve resource recovery, optimise treatment processes and reduce waste generation

Peter Golyshin said “The Environmental Biotechnology Innovation Centre network opens up valuable new research avenues for targeted biodegradation of specific pollutants. The project as a whole will provide innovative solutions for improvement of water and waste management practices, and will enhance the potential for resource recovery, reducing waste generation and leading to more sustainable and efficient practices.”

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