Synthetic biology focuses on the development of biological systems with new defined characteristics assembled according to the principles of engineering. Synthetic biology has the potential to be used for a broad range of applications and has solutions in store for major problems of the future. It also fuels fears that human beings are playing the role of creators and going beyond natural boundaries.
Dr. Stefan Schiller from the Center for Biological Systems Analysis (ZBSA) at the University of Freiburg combines synthetic biology and synthetic chemistry concepts in order to equip bacterial cells with organelle-like compartments. He has countless biotechnological applications in mind. In 2014, Schiller received the research prize “Next Generation of Biotechnological Methods – Biotechnology 2020+”. The prize is awarded every two years and provides around 3.4 million euros in funding for a period of five years.
Biomolecules such as peptides and nucleic acids can nowadays be synthesised relatively quickly and inexpensively. In addition, great progress has been made in the development of methods enabling the directed mutagenesis in microorganisms. These two developments have boosted the design of new, and the reorganisation of known, molecules. Moreover, these help in the utilisation of certain molecule functions in research and in the industrial production of substances and active agents. Molecular design has also become an important process in medicine and environmental technology.
Bacterial cells are focused on growth and proliferation. These processes are initiated by cellular enzymes that break up the cell wall material murein introduce new material and degrade material that is no longer needed. And all this in large amounts about 50 per cent of murein are degraded and newly formed turnover per cell generation. Dr. Christoph Mayer and his team from the University of Constance have shown that the cells carry out effective recycling processes.
Multidisciplinary talent, people who can combine biological knowledge in an outstanding way with engineering, is in great demand. Ralf Takors, who has been head of the Institute of Bioprocess Engineering (IBVT) at the University of Stuttgart since July 2009, is one such talent.
Prof. Dr. Christoph Wittmann from the TU Braunschweig is a partner in the BiopolymersBiomaterials cluster. He is developing mathematical models of metabolic processes to optimise microorganisms for use in biotechnology. In an interview with Christoph Bächtle Wittmann talks about systems biology drawing-board organisms biobased plastics and biotechnologys capacity to complement existing large-scale methods.
Insilico Biotechnology is currently testing the use of methanol as a raw material for microbial bioproduction together with eight other project partners. Insilico’s complex simulation models will help to form a solid base for building up a cost-effective eco-friendly cell factory, the long-term goal of the joint research.
Erythropoietin (EPO) is a human protein hormone that is predominantly produced in kidneys. Scientists from the Chair of Plant Biotechnology of the University of Freiburg, Germany, around Dr. Eva Decker and Professor Ralf Reski and from the Freiburg-based biotech company greenovation have genetically engineered the moss Physcomitrella patens in such a way that it now produces recombinant human asialo-EPO in the moss bioreactor. The researchers published their results in the current online-version of the Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Dr. Stefan Schiller from the Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry at the University of Freiburg became interested in the diversity of molecular possibilities in nature as a student and is now a specialist in bionic chemistry and synthetic nanobiotechnology. Amongst other things his work involves the construction of complex protein machines that transfer signals protein networks for use in medicine and drug shuttles that enable the targeted application of drugs.
Cells, receptor proteins, enzymes and DNA have outstanding properties. The question is, can they also be used as building blocks in computer processors, sensor systems and other micromachines in next generation microelectronics? In cooperation with his research group at the University of Kyoto and his partners in Freiburg, Prof. Dr. Osamu Tabata, microengineer and External Senior Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS) is working on the development of a new generation of micromachines based on folded DNA molecules that is smaller, more intelligent and better than the previous generation.
The results of the feasibility studies funded under the Idea Competition in Biotechnology and Medical Technology were presented in the Haus der Wirtschaft in Stuttgart between 16th and 18th January 2012. Ten of the 42 project ideas were recommended for further funding.
Chemical model systems can be used to study the processes of plant photosynthesis with the goal of tapping sunlight as a source for covering the energy needs of the future. Researchers from Ulm have now developed an artificial leaf based on a manganese-vanadium oxide catalyst which can effectively carry out the critical photocatalytic reaction of splitting water molecules into hydrogen ions and molecular oxygen.
In the new gene technology report, the interdisciplinary working group of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW) takes stock of gene technology developments in Germany during the past few decades, and discusses the societal, legal and ethical challenges associated with these technologies in the future. The report is highly topical due to the controversy surrounding the ruling of the European Court of Justice on CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing.
Prof. Dr. Harald Krug a toxicologist who runs the Materials-Biology Interaction division at Empa - Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research in St. Gallen Switzerland and his team are investigating the interactions of synthetic materials with biological systems. The team of 25 researchers is focusing in particular on the effect of particles and nanomaterials such as CNT on human and animal cells. The division has been an official member of the BioLAGO BioRegion since July 2008.
All washing agents and household detergents contain surface-active agents that bind and dissolve dirt. Up until now these agents have been produced from organic compounds extracted from mineral oil. Due to the ongoing debate on sustainability more and more manufacturers are focusing on biological alternatives. The research group led by Dr. Rudolf Hausmann at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT is investigating the conditions under which microorganisms produce so-called biological surfactants. These substances are as effective as their synthetic counterparts and they are also biologically degradable.
ATGbiosynthetics GmbH based in Merzhausen close to Freiburg produces biological systems that can combine gene constituents following a construction kit principle. The company provides the pharmaceutical industry and basic researchers with products that have specifically chosen properties.
Based on our core competences in computational and synthetic biology ATG is the valuable partner for integrative biotech project plannings with a high impact on the development of new markets in a bio-based economy in terms of advanced bio-pharmaceutical, medical, veterinary and nutritional supply.
The Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg participates in the new EU-funded FP7 collaborative project Direct biological conversion of solar energy to volatile hydrocarbon fuels by engineered cyanobacteria Acronym DirectFuel starting OCT 1 2010 with Prof. Wolfgang Hess Department of Genetics Faculty of Biology as the principal investigator.
Prof. Ralf Reski and his team of scientists at the University of Freiburg have been dealing with the function of moss for many years. The plant biologist has now uncovered impressive evidence of the relationship between mosses and other organisms.
The research group led by Prof. Ralf Reski is a moss specialist and has now, for the first time, succeeded in producing a human protein in a moss bioreactor – the complement factor H. The lack of this protein leads to age-related macular degeneration in about 50 million people worldwide. The complement factor H has been assigned ‘orphan drug’ status by the respective EU authorities.
The Karlsruhe Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) is one of the largest and most renowned institutions in Germany involved in evaluating scientific and technological developments. The institute assesses the impacts and possible effects of new methods from a wide range of scientific fields - including the life sciences.
The boundaries between traditional scientific disciplines are becoming less and less distinct. Interdisciplinary cooperation is often required to study complex processes and biomolecular issues. Interdisciplinary cooperation is central to chemical biology, a scientific discipline that applies chemical substances, methods and tools to the study of biological systems ranging from the chemical synthesis of biologically active substances to the specific chemical modification of biomolecules.
Aromatic rings are extremely stable and very difficult to break apart. Prof. Dr. Matthias Boll from the University of Freiburg’s Faculty of Biology and his team work with Geobacter metallireducens, a bacterium that can completely degrade aromatic compounds under strictly anaerobic conditions. While the biological degradation of aromatic hydrocarbons is of global relevance, the chemical resulting from the reduction of benzene rings could also be of pharmaceutical interest.
A trade fair turns 20 and an industrial sector is coming of age. Where does BIO stand today? The number of exhibitors has slightly decreased the conference is characterised by general themes and trends and partnering has become the most important and indispensable part of the global event for biotechnology. What was once a gold rush atmosphere has given way to an experienced self-confidence about the economic importance of biotechnology.
In April 2012 Rudolf Hausmann jr. was appointed professor of the newly established chair of bioprocess engineering at the University of Hohenheim. His passion biosurfactants used in cleaning agents detergents and foods which will in the future enable normally non-mixable liquids such as oil and water to be mixed together.