Optimization of bioprocesses

Finding, developing and characterizing microbial cultures and enzymes with desirable activities (e.g. biodegradation of an environmental pollutant) are the first steps in the development of a new bioproduct or bioprocess.  Any such cultures or enzymes resulting from BEEM research must also be optimized to create a viable and efficient product.  To that end, it is critical to develop an in-depth understanding of the culture physiology and environmental tolerances to be able to fine tune large-scale commercial applications and make them as efficient as possible.  The BEEM team includes industrial partners with extensive experience in taking these types of bioproduct from the lab to the field.

Optimization is done on three scales:  on the computer, in the lab and in the field.  Sophisticated computer models of the metabolic and enzymatic processes at work on a cellular level will form the basis of a holistic understanding of the culture and its functions.  They will also suggest bottlenecks in the processes and ways to optimize growth and  desirable enzyme activities.  In addition, they can highlight populations in the culture whose well-being is crucial to the culture's overall function.  For example, metagenome sequencing has revealed unique acetogens and acidophilic methanogens in anaerobic dechlorinating cultures that provide key nutrients to dechlorinating populations that enhance activity.  It is, therefore, critical to ensure the health of both dechlorinating and non-dechlorinating populations in these complex mixtures.

Optimization regimes suggested by modeling results are then verified in laboratory experiments.  At the same time, results from these lab studies will inform the models, helping to refine them and improve the understanding of the culture's fundamental mechanisms.  Once the desired activity has been reliably established in the lab and optimal conditions have been determined, pilot studies at with industrial partners can be initiated.

New industrial partners are welcomed - please contact info.beem@utoronto.ca.