As part of my continuing involvement in promoting (and positioning us for) the Sustainable BioEconomy in Europe, one of my main activities last week was attendance at the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology in Düsseldorf. This was a very encouraging meeting, showing how quickly Europe is moving towards a sustainable bioeconomy in the chemicals sector. Because of the nature of bio-based chemicals, one feature was a session on joint ventures between biological and agricultural or chemicals companies: Avantium and Coca Cola making plantbottle (a clear plastic bottle made from renewable sources), Reverdia, a JV from Roquette and DSM, BioAmber and Lanxess, and Global Bioenergies and Lanzatech were featured. There was much interest in bio-succinate, and a recognition that its increasing availability at scale meant that its markets (and those for its derivatives) needed to be developed now. There were many other excellent talks on developing processes, while Achim Marx gave a very interesting talk about the CLIB2021 cluster that is bringing together the many relevant players in Germany, Yvonne Armitage gave a succinct and helpful account of our own Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum, and Merlin Goldman of the Technology Strategy Board provided an excellent overview of the signal successes of the TSB’s high-value biomanufacturing programme. The CLIB2021 brochure contained the memorable line “In future, the rational development of production strains will in general be accompanied by systems biotechnology approaches.” Quite. There were also useful sessions on marine biotechnology, including a nice example by Kjartan Sandnes of a joint programme between Marine Bioproducts AS from Norway and the Centre for Process Innovation at Wilton, turning (potentially vast amounts of) fish waste into added value products, and one on processes featuring a nice presentation by Ian Fotheringham of the UK’s Ingenza. [...]
Tag: systems biology
I began the week, as part of our activities on the Sustainable Bioeconomy in Europe, by attending part of the 15th meeting of the European Federation of Biotechnology. I used to attend more regularly as an academic, but had not been for a while. Much of the focus is still on what is called ‘white’ (i.e. microbial) biotechnology for the production of enzymes, fuels and chemicals, and some substantial progress had been made. Systems biology now also had its own strand, referred to (I do not know why) as ‘purple’ biotechnology. Presumably when applied to microbes it becomes lilac. [...]
Last week’s first formal meeting was a dinner hosted in London by Prof Willis Lin from the Taiwan National Science Council, as part of a Taiwan-UK workshop on aspects of stem cell biology. This followed from the BBSRC-NSC MoU that we signed in 2010 and the workshop I attended in Taiwan last year.
We also had a wide-ranging and useful meeting with colleagues at DfID, scoping out our joint activities, and noting the renewed impetus given to some of these by the Prime Minister’s global hunger event (hashtag #globalhunger). Improving agriculture through science was also a key theme of a meeting with George Freeman, MP for mid-Norfolk and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science & Technology in Agriculture. [...]
For much of last week I – along with more than 700 other delegates – attended the 34th eponymous Symposium on Biotechnology for fuels and chemicals in the USA. The attendees were fairly evenly split between academia, industry, students and ‘Government’, while the country mix was interesting, with non-US representation mainly (in order) from Brazil, Korea, Canada, Denmark and Sweden, and with just 7 UK representatives.
In a very interesting plenary, David Glassner from Gevo described some large-scale processes for producing lactate (hence polylactate) and isobutanol in yeast. A 22 million gallon per year facility is being constructed! Many other talks followed a similar pattern, as microbial strain engineering based on systems biology modelling, pathway and enzyme engineering and ’omics were used to create strains with excellent potential and prowess, many of which were progressing to large-scale trials. Examples included 1,4-butanediol from Genomatica (and see the paper), 2,5-furan dicarboxylic acid at Bird Engineering (and paper) and a variety of long-chain alkanes, esters and fatty alcohols from LS9 (and representative paper). What is clear is that substantial progress is being made in developing processes for industrial biotechnology, and that they can only become more economic as the feedstocks for the petrochemical processes that might otherwise be used to make them increase in cost. One speaker pointed out that during one single 3h symposium session the world would use 12 million barrels of oil, or 4 supertankers’ worth! [...]
The understanding of biochemical and other networks is an important part of systems biology, and I enjoyed attending an interesting seminar on “network-based drug design” by Péter Csermely of Semmelweiss University, where I was alerted to a number of his papers such as this one, and even a book, that had passed me by. Not for the first time, one is led to lament the difficulty of keeping up with the voluminous literature.
We had a meeting of the Chairs of the Institute Assessment Panels. Council also met.
I attended the launch by Minister of Universities and Science David Willetts of the Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth paper (pdf), which set down a number of important initiatives for the research base. [...]