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Biocatalytic upgrading of natural biopolymers for reassembly as multipurpose materials

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BioUPGRADE (Biocatalytic upgrading of natural biopolymers for reassembly as multipurpose materials)

Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-04-30

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced from today’s more than 60 GtCO2e yr-1 to 25–30 GtCO2e yr−1 by 2030 and net zero by 2050. The resulting global efforts to establish sustainable, bio-based economies are valued in the hundreds of billion euros. Biological systems naturally recycle GHGs while generating an enormous array of chemicals and materials. Biomanufacturing harnesses this capacity by deploying microorganisms and enzymes that convert renewable bioresources to desired fuels, platform chemicals and materials, including bioderived alternatives to plastics. By 2030, its estimated that the biotechnologies that catalyze these transformations will be producing over 35% of the chemicals and materials we use every day

The BioUPGRADE action combines computational biology, genomics and material sciences to realize the potential of biotechnology in sustainable manufacturing of renewable products. Our focus in on biocatalyst (enzymes) that transform major sources of renewable fibre into of high-value textiles and packaging materials, conductive inks for bioelectronics, and customized hydrogels for health and personal care products.

Our specific project objectives are to 1) design biocatalysts that introduce new chemical or physical functionality to structural polysaccharides from plant and fungal sources, 2)establish application-driven functional screens for biocatalysts in materials engineering, and 3) develop procedures for the controlled assembly of tailored bio-fibres for multipurpose bio-based materials.
Following our kick-off meeting in May 2021, team members were recruited to all partner locations and all project work-packages, and monthly project meetings were initiated to ensure an efficient start to our initiative and high cohesion across the network. A project webpage and file sharing site were created to facilitate internal and external communications. Moreover, project trainees established separate meeting times to build community and influence training initiatives that support professional development. Over the summer 2021, we assembled a interdisciplinary Advisory Board comprising internationally recognized academic and industrial scientists who bring expertise in biotechnology and bioproduct development, from biomolecular design to scale-up and commercialization.

The deliberate steps taken to promote communication across the project have ensured a strong start to research activities across BioUPGRADE. Research highlights from the current reporting period include:
• application of ancestral sequence resurrection to microbial expansin-related proteins
• design and construction of fusion proteins comprising microbial expansin domains
• recombinant production of protein targets from all prioritized protein families
• establishment of biophysical methods to characterize the action of microbial expansin-related proteins
• development of pre-treatments needed for facilitating protein treatments
• enzymatic oxidative studies using hemicelluloses relevant to hydrogel formation
• development of conductive ink prototypes based on enzymatically prepared nanocellulose

Research activities over the current reporting period have led to two submitted manuscripts, three manuscripts in preparation and one patent application.
Specific fundamental scientific impacts anticipated through the BioUPGRADE action are listed below:

(1) Deciphering of evolved signatures for surface-acting biocatalysts, which can guide sequence selection and protein design:
(2) Prediction of biological function for enigmatic protein families, including microbial expansin-related proteins and carbohydrate oxidoreductases.
(3) Elucidation of molecular and morphological determinants of biophysical properties for nature’s major terrestrial and marine structural polymers:

Research results of TRL 4-6 are anticipated by the end of the BioUPGRADE program. These outcome will be further developed by project partners using existing internal research and development frameworks to scale-up technologies that create tailored bio-fibres for advanced consumer products.

The following three steps and latest actions are also being taken to maximize the socio-economic impacts of the BioUPGRADE program:
(1) Active dissemination of the research results:
• We established a file sharing system to exchange protocols and results, and to track sample exchange across the project
• Already, two manuscripts were submitted in open access journals and three others are in preparation
• Team members participated at five international conferences and seminars over the reporting period

(2) Exploitation of the research results and intellectual property
• A plan for Exploitation & Dissemination of the Project Results was produced
• One patent application for novel uses of enzymes was submitted

(3) Communication and public engagement strategy
• BioUPGRADE Public website created and being updated constantly
• BioUPGRADE trainees formed a social media team to promote research dissemination and stakeholder engagement (e.g. industry partnerships, student recruitment, policy makers)