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Designing biofunctional materials

Principal Supervisors: Professor Orkun S Soyer, School of Life Sciences, Professor Andrew Dove, University of Birmingham

Non-academic partner: Simon Aldersley (U-Pol)

Project Title: Designing biofunctional materials

University of registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Current biotechnological microbial processes are focused on bulk bio-production using reactor-based approaches that are over decades old. This approach is primarily motivated by the industrial belief in ‘economies of scale’ and pushes microbiological process to confirm with the notion of large-scale reactor-based chemical processing. This standpoint is in stark contrast to microbial activities and function in nature, where microbes usually fill specific environmental niches allowing them to perform very specific functions in a stable and robust manner. Well-known examples include the microbial mats formed in freshwater streams1 and lakes and microbial granules formed on organic matter in the oceans2. Within these micro-structured environments microbes co-exist with other microbes, forming robust interactions that result in specific bioprocesses such as carbon fixation, metal and organic material filtering, and anaerobic digestion. While confined into small spaces locally, these bioprocess act globally to shape the Earth’s biochemistry3.

In this project, we will exploit the natural tendencies of microbial systems to form stabilising, productive micro-structures towards designing biofunctional materials. Combining the chemistry and systems/synthetic biology expertise from Dove and Soyer groups4,5, we will design specific chemical hydrogels for spatially organising functional microbes within a support structure. We will create a design-build-test cycle for achieving sustained microbial (metabolic) activity within these hydrogels. The resulting biomaterial will be further developed in collaboration with U-Pol, a leading UK-based coatings company, to attain new biotechnological applications for indoor and environmental filtering of pollutants.

 References: 

  1. PMID: 25109247
  2. PMID: 27232202
  3. PMID: 18497287
  4. PMID: 24632350
  5. PMID: 27840864

Closing date for applications: 7th January 2018

Interview date: Tuesday 16th January 2018

Check eligibilty and apply