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Posted: Jul 17, 2014

Engineering synthetic microbial communities for biomethane production

(Nanowerk News) A team at the University of Warwick is investigating how to use methane-producing microbes, known as methanogens, to generate renewable biofuels.
Combusting methane can provide a large amount of energy, but although popular in some parts of the world has not taken off in the UK.
The production of methane from organic matter is a multi-level task that requires the concerted action of a "community" of microbes to be successful. The interdisciplinary team of researchers, funded by a BBSRC Strategic Longer and Larger (SLOLA) grant, are using specialist microbes to build cooperative microbial networks that work as methane producing communities.
In this video Henry Porter, a BBSRC funded PhD student from Professor Orkun Soyer's lab, explains the idea behind the process and what they hope to discover:
Background
Complex microbial communities underlie natural processes such as global chemical cycles and digestion in higher animals, and are routinely exploited for industrial scale synthesis, waste treatment and fermentation. Our basic understanding of the structures, stabilities and functions of such communities is limited, leading to the declaration of their study as the next frontier in microbial ecology, microbiology, and synthetic biology. Focusing on biomethane producing microbial communities (BMCs), we will undertake a two-tiered approach of optimising natural communities and designing synthetic communities with a focus on achieving robust, high-yield biomethane production. Within this biotechnological framework, our proposal will address several fundamental scientific questions on the link between the structure and function of microbial communities.
To ensure success in this challenging project, we assembled the strongest possible interdisciplinary research team that combines significant practical and scientific expertise in microbial ecology and evolution, systems modelling, molecular microbiology, bioengineering, genomics, and synthetic biology.
This project will result in significant impact in the scientific and industrial domains. Through our work, we will; significantly improve the current understanding of the structure-function relation in microbial communities, provide the scientific community with a systematic, temporal genomics and transcriptomics dataset on complex microbial communities, develop novel computational tools for microbial community (re)design, and experimentally build synthetic BMCs that will act as model ecosystems in different research fields. These scientific developments, in turn, will accumulate in the development of more sustainable bioenergy solutions for the UK economy by optimising the communities underlying biomethane production. This will help to drive the efficiency of biomethane as an alternative fuel source.
Source: BBSRC/University of Warwick
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