Project to scour 'microbial dark-matter' for new biotechnology resources : HORIZON 2020-funded Project ‘INMARE’ begins

We frequently hear that global resources are being used up and that we need several ‘earths’ if we are to keep on consuming at the same rate. One area that remains ‘un-tapped’, however, is the range of microbiological resources in our oceans. These could be providing us with new resources from which to produce safer, cheaper and greener products.

Most industrial biotechnology processes are microbially-based, and it is anticipated that new biotech processes and applications will emerge from the yet unknown microbial biodiversity or so-called “microbial dark matter”.

Marine environments represent the largest diversity of untapped genes, enzymes and natural products which could be of use to industry. Of a special interest are the microbes which survive in extreme conditions such as extreme pressure, salinity or temperature and hence could provide enzymes which are able to perform in industrial settings under harsh physical and chemical conditions.

In the first award to Bangor University from the major EU Horizon 2020 Program research funding stream, Prof Peter Golyshin will lead an international consortium of more than 20 partners from academia and industry from 12 countries, including leading multinational industrial partners, will work on a four year EUR 6M collaborative project. The project will mine for and use newly discovered microbial enzymes and metabolites, in particular for the targeted production of fine chemicals, environmental clean-up technologies and anti-cancer drugs.

The Project; INMARE (Industrial Applications of Marine Enzymes: Innovative screening and expression platforms to discover and use the functional protein diversity from the sea”) stands on the shoulders of previous and on-going national research initiatives and projects supported by previous European Framework Programs for exploration of genomic and biochemical diversity of marine microorganisms.

INMARE’s industrial focus comes via the innovative screening programs for enzymes, and bioinformatics-based gene discovery, and will include both development and demonstration of innovative technologies.

Already, the consortium have over 100 ‘gene libraries’ from a variety of environments that can be subjected to screening, but the consortium will also construct more libraries from the DNA from yet unstudied extremophilic environments.

Addressing some of the major challenges that lie ahead, Prof Peter Golyshin, of the School of Biological Sciences explains:

“An important bottleneck in industrial applications of enzymes is the laborious and costly (and rarely successful) enzyme optimization process which seeks to make enzymes more stable and perform better in the harsh environment of industrial processes.

“The solution may be to finding better natural enzyme variants: after 4 billion years of evolution, nature has established a vast diversity of enzymes, some of which may fit perfectly well to the industrial demand. Our task will be to identify them using corresponding screening conditions, at the very early stages.”

Dr Olga Golyshina of Bangor University added:

As the majority of microbes from extreme environments cannot be cultured under standard lab conditions, the new technologies, and metagenomics approaches will play the central role in the project. A special emphasis will be put on the development of innovative screening approaches.”

Publication date: 20 April 2015