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Industrial Cell Factories and Sustainable Bioprocessing for Future Bioeconomy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CelESTial (Industrial Cell Factories and Sustainable Bioprocessing for Future Bioeconomy)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2018-08-31

Biosustainablility is an important goal for humanity as it addresses many global challenges we face. The rapidly emerging field of synthetic biology provides a powerful opportunity to make this goal a reality. By combining molecular biology and engineering, synthetic biology represents a paradigm shift where biology is becoming an engineering discipline with tools to design and construct cells and organisms with novel functions. These can be used as cell factories to replace and extend current chemical and pharmaceutical production techniques in an environmentally sustainable way. A number of cell factories developed in recent years have replaced existing production techniques because they are economically superior, but may be utilized in coming years to address global climate change. To foster the development of synthetic biology and cell factory development, we propose a Teaming partnership between the Estonian Centre for Synthetic Biology (Estonia) at the University of Tartu and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability (Denmark) at the Technical University of Denmark. We will create a research and development platform for the sustainable bio-manufacturing of high value chemicals and pharmaceuticals using cell factories. The platform, which relies on the concerted action of both centers, and their industrial partners, will accelerate the transition from proof-of-concept science to commercial production via a system of iterative cycles. This platform will move cell factory technology from the lab to pilot-scale production in bioreactors with less cost and development time compared with current state-of-the-art techniques. This project also aims to enhance regional development by extending the innovative biosustainable research and industrial practices of the Medicon Valley area of Denmark and Southern Sweden into the greater Nordic and Baltic Sea region.
The main goals for the project were to:
• Define the long-term research and innovation strategy for the ECSB
• Define knowledge management and commercialization strategy
• Define academic career management strategy
• Establish strong industrial and academic connections and a strategy to ensure long term collaboration
• Complete preparatory activities for setting up the infrastructure for the planned cell factory eco-system
• Establish innovative curricula and training programs focused on industrial biotechnology

During the year, the teaming partners Estonian Centre for Synthetic Biology and Center for Biosustainability established strong ties between the research groups that would be necessary for moving to the next stage of development. This includes identifying several collaboration projects in the cell factory research and development field. The conceptual design of the technology development platform and the pilot plant was finalized. Strategic long-term plans to improve and sustain the research excellence and synergy between the centers were outlined.

Dissemination strategies to the Estonian government, interested associations and potential industrial partners were established during the project. The project was widely introduced in the synthetic biology/biotechnology global research community and to the wider public in Estonia and beyond. As a result, the project was able to secure a commitment for significant financial support from the Estonian government should the project move to the next stage. In so doing, the project team was also able to gain public support for the sustainable valorization of local biomass. In addition, key industrial partners have been engaged with, so that initial collaboration strategies have been developed. As a result of these efforts, we have also been able to determine that there is a large interest from the wider industrial sectors for the products of our platform. All of the above will be instrumental in ensuring that the project is sustainable over the long term.

To realize this, during the project period a long-term R&D strategy, as well as strategies for management, commercialization and career management were developed and approved by both consortia partners. By achieving these goals, we not only have fulfilled the expectations of the one-year Teaming Phase 1 project CelESTial but have laid a strong foundation from which we will be able to develop and eventually implement a successful Teaming Phase 2 project.
In most of the areas of the CelESTial project, progress was made far beyond the expected results. The first half of the year was largely dedicated to setting up the lines of communication with government institutions and major bioprocessing companies in the region. Multiple visits, brainstorming meetings, and presentations on the progress of the CelESTial project culminated with a of strong financial commitment from the Ministry of Education and Science. A major reason for this is the belief that our initiative will leverage many more millions of Euros in investment and economic activity and have a strong positive effect on the Estonian economy and society. Company representatives also appear to be impressed with our vision, demonstrated by the larger number of companies and industry leaders that are interested in collaborating with the proposed initiative. As a result, we have the strong possibility of becoming a regional hub for this industrial activity, to the benefit of others in the Baltic region. To carry out this outreach to industry players, a personalized and focused approach was chosen: before every visit the company profile was carefully studied by the CelESTial team and personally tailored collaboration projects were proposed. As a result, the ECSB has a clear vision of how to become a self-sustaining scientific center of excellence by providing bio-industries with cell factory based solutions for the sustainable production of needed chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, our work on innovative curricula on industrial biotechnology, synthetic biology and bioengineering during the one-year CSA action was also unexpectedly successful. We have designed a new international master’s program “Bioengineering”, which was entirely devised to train the specialists with skills in industrial biotechnology and bioprocessing, the focus areas of CelESTial. As a result of the project, we have recognized that there is a strong need for a Research Center that would offer innovative solutions in the field of biosustainability. This in turn will have a strong positive impact at both the regional and European levels.