25-Feb-2022 - Technische Universität München

“New” organism being prepared for biotechnology applications

Basis for next-gen bioprocesses

Succinic acid is an important precursor for pharmaceutical and cosmetic products and also serves as a component in biodegradable plastics. It is currently derived mainly from petroleum-based processes. Researchers at the Straubing campus of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) are using the marine bacterium Vibrio natriegens as a biocatalyst. This could permit the production of succinic acid in sustainable processes using renewable raw materials.

The marine bacterium Vibrio natriegens is remarkable for its extremely rapid growth. It is the fastest growing non-pathogenic organism discovered to date. This is combined with their extremely fast uptake of substrates – the reactant materials consumed in catalytic reactions. “We are pushing hard to establish Vibrio natriegens in biotechnology,” says Bastian Blombach, Professor of Microbial Biotechnology at TUM.

Prof. Blombach’s team at TUM Campus Straubing for Biotechnology and Sustainability is investigating ways to use this marine bacteria to make production processes more time-efficient, thus conserving resources, while reducing the scale of biotechnology facilities.

Marine bacterium helps to produce succinic acid

The researchers have now succeeded in using the example of succinic acid to demonstrate the potential of the marine bacterium. Succinic acid is an organic substance found in fossilized resins such as amber and in bituminous coal. In nature it can be found in unripe grapes, rhubarb and tomatoes, for instance.

Succinate, the salt of succinic acid, occurs in the metabolism of all organisms, where it is used in an intermediate stage in the breakdown of glucose. The natural presence of succinic acid in metabolic processes is now being used in biotechnology efforts to produce the acid with microorganisms such as the marine bacterium studied by the TUM researchers. This requires an understanding of the metabolic action of microbial platforms such as Vibrio natriegens.

Potential for industrial biotechnology

Prof. Blombach’s team is applying metabolic engineering methods to develop these innovative microbial systems for industrial biotechnology. With advanced genetic engineering techniques, it is then possible to create tailor-made cell factories.

Dr. Felix Thoma, a researcher at the Microbial Biotechnology and first author of the study, explains how the team produced succinic acid: “We filled plastic tubes with a saline solution, in which Vibrio natriegens thrives, added glucose, and sealed them airtight. In the absence of oxygen, the bacteria converted the sugar and the dissolved CO2 in the medium into succinic acid. The process was completed after around two to three hours.”

In a further step, the researchers conducted the experiments in a bioreactor, where they could control the pH level, which otherwise becomes gradually inhospitable as the acid forms. This also allowed them to continually feed the co-substrate, CO2.

A bacterium soon to be a key process partner

Succinic acid is among 12 key products where bioengineering production could compete successfully with petrochemical methods in the future. “Our results after just two years of development work with Vibrio natriegens are comparable to what we see in other systems after 15 or 20 years. That makes this marine bacterium a new and potent actor in industrial biotechnology,” says Thoma.

Through targeted genetic modifications, the research team has succeeded in optimizing the bacterium’s metabolism to the point where it efficiently converts glucose into succinic acid – at a high level of productivity. “On the way to a viable industrial process, there is still work to do in terms of the process design,” says Prof. Blombach. The team is now working to develop the process with Vibrio natriegens and the usability of renewable raw materials and waste flows that do not compete with the food industry.

Facts, background information, dossiers

More about TUM

  • News

    First electric nanomotor made from DNA material

    A research team led by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has succeeded for the first time in producing a molecular electric motor using the DNA origami method. The tiny machine made of genetic material self-assembles and converts electrical energy into kinetic energy. The new nanomot ... more

    Mass spectrometry-based draft of the mouse proteome

    Proteins control and organize almost every aspect of life. The totality of all proteins in a living organism, a tissue or a cell is called the proteome. Using mass spectrometry, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) characterize the proteome, or protein complement of the g ... more

    Mini-fuel cell generates electricity using the body's sugar

    Glucose is the most important energy source in the human body. Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) now want to use the body's sugar as an energy source for medicinal implants. They have developed a glucose fuel cell whic ... more

  • q&more articles

    Vital wheat gluten, a protein with potential

    For almost every one of the 17 goals that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out, food and its value chain plays an important role [1]. With this agenda, the United Nations has created a global framework for action that addresses all social players. more

    Biobased raw material flows of the future

    Anthropogenic climate change and the rising world population, in combination with increasing urbanization, poses global challenges to our societies that can only be solved by technological advancement. The direct biotechnological use of greenhouse gases, including residual biomass flows fro ... more

    Taste and aroma boost in the mouth

    The food trend towards healthy snacks is continuing. Snacks made from freeze-dried fruit meet consumer expectations of modern and high-quality food. However, freeze drying of whole fruits requires long drying times and substantially reduces sensorial quality, which is unappealing to consumers. more

  • Authors

    Prof. Dr. Thomas Becker

    Thomas Becker, born in 1965, studied Technology and Biotechnology of Food at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). He then worked as a project engineer at the company Geo-Konzept from 1992 to 1993. In 1995, he received his PhD from the TUM. From 1996 to 2004 he was Deputy Head of Depart ... more

    Monika C. Wehrli

    Monika Wehrli, born in 1994, graduated from the ETH Zurich with a major in food process engineering. Since 2018 she has been working as a researcher at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, at the Chair of Brewing and Beverage Technology, where she pursues her doctorate in the field ... more

    Prof. Dr. Thomas Brück

    Thomas Brück, born in 1972, obtained his B.Sc. in chemistry, biochemistry and management science from Keele University, Stoke on Trent. Additionally, he holds an M.Sc. in molecular medicine from the same institution. In 2002, Thomas obtained his Ph.D. in Protein Biochemistry from Imperial C ... more

q&more – the networking platform for quality excellence in lab and process

The q&more concept is to increase the visibility of recent research and innovative solutions, and support the exchange of knowledge. In the broad spectrum of subjects covered, the focus is on achieving maximum quality in highly innovative sectors. As a modern knowledge platform, q&more offers market participants one-of-a-kind networking opportunities. Cutting-edge research is presented by authors of international repute. Attractively presented in a high-quality context, and published in German and English, the original articles introduce new concepts and highlight unconventional solution strategies.

> more about q&more

q&more is supported by: