The Centre of Expertise for Industrial Biotechnology and Biocatalysis of Ghent University (www.inbio.be) has a strong track record in industrial biotechnology. Its research is focusing on bio-surfactants, metabolic engineering and modelling, carbohydrate bio-engineering, biocatalysis, directed evolution and protein engineering. Its expertise also covers the development and optimization of fermentation processes and the subsequent down-stream processing for purification of the molecules. The full research group consists of about 40 people, whose research activities have resulted in numerous publications, PhD theses, patents and industrial applications, developed in collaboration with industry.
InBio.be was the first laboratory to start a detailed study of the sophorolipid biosynthetic pathway, and to develop the tools for the genetic engineering of unconventional yeast strain Starmerella bombicola. InBio.be has among others sequenced the whole genome of this yeast species. Over the years, the laboratory has developed a strong track record in metabolic engineering and analysis of biosurfactants. Industrial processes to produce and purify biosurfactants have been developed in collaboration with industrial partners.
Surfactants or surface active agents are applied in a wide range of industries and products: cleaning, personal care, cosmetics, agriculture, oil recovery, paper industry, etc. Hence, they are produced in large amounts: about 18 million tons annually and Europe is estimated to be the largest consumer. The majority are used in normal households for laundry and cleaning which results in large volumes ending up in the environment or wastewater after use, leading to a huge ecological load. In addition, most currently used surfactants are still produced from petroleum which is a limited resource. Biosurfactants or surfactants produced by a natural process by microorganisms on the other hand offer a credible alternative to their chemically derived counterparts with equal performance. They are produced from sustainable renewable resources by a biological process which offer clear ecological advantages such as low ecotoxicity and good biodegradability.
We recently developed a new type of biosurfactant by using a yeast-based system. This surfactant displays novel properties we would like to explore in different applications together with the project partners. Furthermore, an cost-efficient and ecological production and purification process will be put in place in the scope of the IB2Market project. These actions help building the bio-based economy and bring industrial biotech to the market.