Our society is rapidly evolving to abolish its dependence on petroleum and counter the current trends of climate change. Besides fueling the internal combustion engines, petroleum derivatives are used for producing a broad range of petro-chemicals, which are present in all aspects of our everyday lives. A viable alternative to petro-chemicals are oleo-chemicals, produced from lipid derivatives extracted from microbial cell factories, grown on recyclable plant biomass. At Chalmers SysBio we are developing yeast strains that can convert up to 70% of their biomass into lipids, which can then be used as precursors for synthesizing oleo-chemicals. A major bottleneck for scaling up the production of oleo-chemicals for industrial exploitation of microbial cell factories is the difficulty with extracting the products. Very low amounts of oleo-chemicals are secreted into the growth medium by yeast cells, and most of the lipids and their derivatives remain in membrane-bound vacuoles inside the cells. We are proposing to develop a revolutionary solution to this problem, which would make yeast cell factories for production of oleo-chemicals much more attractive. In our recent studies, we have discovered how to control orientation and length of graphene flakes to selectively penetrate cellular membranes. Here we propose to develop magnetic nanoparticles, coated with axially aligned graphene flakes, which would be capable of extracting lipids from cell factories in fermenters. Due to unique properties of graphene coating, the extraction would be performed in real time, at the same time as growth of yeast cells, without interrupting the production process. Our nanoparticles would also be made safe by design, to prevent any harmful effect on humans and the environment. This project builds on the cutting edge graphene technology present at Chalmers, to overcome a major problem for sustainable production of oleo-chemicals.
Full Professor at Chalmers, Biology and Biological Engineering, Systems and Synthetic Biology
Funding Chalmers participation during 2018–2020