Industrial and Agro-Food Biotechnology are key areas in the realization of the Knowledge-Based BioEconomy, and have the potential to revolutionize the way chemicals and energy are currently produced. Increased concern for environmental issues and the panorama of declining raw materials and resources has moved the industrial attention to employ microorganisms as biocatalysts. In addition, innovative technologies are developed to improve bioreaction and bioseparation processes and energy production from biomass.
We target the production of added-value compounds and products (biopharmaceuticals, biofuels and bioenergy) from renewable bioresources using microbial, animal or plant cells, or their components or chemical catalysts in inherently clean processes, with waste minimisation and reduced energy consumption. Multidisciplinary activities are being pursuited in which biochemistry, microbiology, molecular and cell biology, genomics and bioinformatics, and bioprocess engineering are integrated and combined aiming at the development of useful processes and products.
Activities within this Thematic Line include developing/improving:
- Microbial cell factories for the production of added-value compounds, with the help of systems biology and synthetic biology tools, associated with the development of advanced bioreaction and bioseparation processes.
- Chemicals and energy from biological materials and processes - Biorefineries and bioenergy.
- Safer and innovative food products including the use of food-grade advanced technologies and materials for healthier, safer and more convenient foods.
- Fibre bioprocesses and enzyme technology – study of bioprocesses for the exploitation of fibrous materials such as raw biomass, bacterial cellulose, keratins, fibroins and synthetic polymers.
The integration of process intensification and cell improvement will allow for the implementation of more sustainable, more productive, more selective and more environmentally-friendly processes. Sustainable technologies based on the use of renewable resources are being developed.
The overall objectives of this line are to conduct high quality research aiming at fostering the development of a knowledge-based bio-economy, leading to new added-value products and processes. Overall, the following specific scientific objectives may be highlighted:
- Green alternatives to existing chemical-based processes and development of process integration strategies and novel biotechnology processes;
- Advanced biomass conversion technologies for improved use of biomass within the bio-refinery concept, including the use of low-cost substrates: macro-algae, agro-industry wastes, crude glycerol for citric acid, single-cell-oil (SCO); fat wastes for the production of lipases and SCO, wastes from wine and olive oil industries for enzymes production:
- Microalgae and cyanobacteria as a source of a biofuels and added-value compounds and for CO2 mitigation;
- Search for novel enzymes and microorganisms from specific or extreme environments expanding the range of biological processes for industrial use;
- Strategies for enzyme recycling in 2nd generation bioethanol production;
- Improvement of microbial metabolism with the aim of modifying bacteria, yeasts, and other fungi to produce new products and increase yields;
- Process intensification strategies, including the design of innovative bioreactors with improved hydrodynamic and transport properties, and the use of continuous high cell/enzyme concentration systems;
- Advanced and novel fermentation and enzyme processes for the food industry, including the production of prebiotics, the extraction of added-value compounds from agro-industry by-products and other non-exploited sources;
- Advanced and environmental-friendly processes for increased shelf-life of food products;
- Nanotechnology-based solutions for applications in the food industry (nanomultilayers films/coatings, nanoemulsions, nanogels and nanocapsules e.g. for bioactive compounds);
- Advanced food processing technologies for food pasteurization/sterilization and food processing and characterization of the effect of electric fields in food components’ structure and properties;
- Extension of the developed framework of constraint-based modeling by developing tools for genome annotation and model reconstruction, and also by extending the models incorporating other phenomena, such as gene regulation and integration of omics data with genome-scale models at several levels, including model construction, phenotype simulation and analysis.
- Development of organisms with novel engineered biosynthetic pathways for the production of products with industrial interest, e.g. genetic manipulation of C. pasteurianum in order to optimize butanol production.
- Exploitation of the potential of bacterial cellulose in the food industry.