New CBMNet funded projects awarded

We are pleased to announce that we have awarded two new Proof of Concept awards and one Business Interaction Voucher.

The University of Nottingham will be working with Croda Europe on the project ‘Solid state NMR analysis of lipid/surfactant interactions’, funded through a CBMNet Business Interaction Voucher.

Surfactants, including soaps, are compounds, the molecules of which possess a dual affinity for water, both attracting and repelling it. They disrupt lipidic structures, such as the membranes of bacteria and higher organisms alike. In this proposal, we aim to investigate the effect of bioproduced industrial surfactants on lipid bilayers, membrane models, to understand the mechanisms of surfactant function, to understand and optimise stability of
bioproduction and to gain insights into cellular stability in the presence of these surfactants. To achieve this, we will use advanced analytical methods, including solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), to investigate the stability of lipid bilayers in the presence of varied amounts of surfactant. Spectra, obtained from naturally present phosphorus atoms in the membranes, provide a sensitive tool for quantitative assaying of lamellar to non-lamellar conversion in the presence of surfactants.

The University of York, along with TeeGene Biotech Ltd and Johnson Matthey will be working on the project ‘Plants as Nanoparticle Producers’, funded through a CBMNet Proof of Concept Grant.

Platinum group metals (PGMs) are used in many industrial applications, often as nanoparticles (NPs). PGMs are rare materials, making them highly valuable, but their increasing dispersal in the environment is of growing concern. The metal accumulating ability of plants can be used to capture metals from the environment. Furthermore, our studies demonstrated that plants can produce PGM-NPs which can make high-performing plant-based catalysts, either in their native state or after modification. These high value products could help satisfy demand for precious metals in industry and medicine. However, the full potential of plants as PGM accumulators is yet to be realised and will critically depend on the mechanism for PGM uptake, an area of great controversy. The aim of this study is to establish whether PGM uptake in plants is via passive diffusion or mediated by (specific) proteins.

The University of Lincoln, along with Green Biologics Ltd will be working on the project ‘Identifying and characterising protective lipid changes under solventogenic stress’, funded through a CBMNet Proof of Concept Grant.

Solventogenic Clostridia are used by Green Biologics Ltd (GBL) to generate n-butanol from a variety of feedstocks providing sugars for fermentation.  n-Butanol is expensive to purify from the fermentation broth but the cost of in situ solvent removal is greatly decreased by fermenting to higher concentrations of n-butanol.   One particular challenge is that n-butanol is toxic to Clostridia at concentrations in excess of ~2% and metabolism slows down at substantially lower butanol concentrations.  A previous BIV between Alan Goddard (AG) and GBL determined that n-butanol directly disrupts model lipid bilayers made from extracted Clostridia membranes.

It has been reported that a number of changes in lipid composition of the plasma membrane occur in response to n-butanol production.  One specific class of lipids, plasmalogens, are potentially important in this process and have been shown to be upregulated in Clostridia under solventogenic stress.  Plasmalogens are ether phospholipids characterized by a vinyl ether linkage at the sn-1 position and an ester linkage at the sn-2 position and may influence the structure and function of the membrane when exposed to stresses such as n-butanol.  Using lipidomics expertise developed by Professor Ian Graham (IG) and Dr Tony Larson (TL) at the University of York, this proposal aims to determine the specific changes in plasma membrane lipid composition during n-butanol formation and to investigate their effects on membrane stability in the presence of n-butanol with a view to being able to modulate this system for enhanced biofuel production.


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