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Modelling and optimising the microbial biorefinery process to enhance waste transformation for the promotion of a circular bioeconomy

Project Description

Although microbial communities play major biogeochemical roles in all ecosystems, driving carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling, they remain only crudely represented in existing biogeochemical models of these systems. The advent of meta-omic technologies has facilitated the development of a range of models for assessing microbial diversity and function. Recent work has shown how coupling biogeochemical and ‘gene-centric’ models can link these data to predictions of aquatic nutrient cycling at the ecosystem scale (Louca et al (2016) PNAS 113,E5925). As competition for scarce natural resources and depletion of fossil reserves intensifies, more sustainable and circular systems of production and consumption are needed to respond to the societal challenges of climate change, natural resource scarcity and environmental pollution. The development of biorefinery technologies whereby the microbial upcycling of wastes is used to produce alternative feedstocks to fossil-based raw materials for the co-production of fuels, chemicals, biomaterials and nutrients is thus imperative. Optimisation of these biorefinery systems, however, requires the development of modelling tools to understand how microbial function drives biorefinery performance cf. those developed by Louca et al. for the aquatic environment. Using data from a model biorefinery system and through dissection of process relevant axenic cultures, this studentship will develop microbe-enabled bioprocess models for the production of high-value medium-chain length fatty acids alongside the co-recovery of nutrients from waste. The student, who will have the opportunity to work in Queen’s University Belfast, NUI-Galway and University of Exeter will receive extensive training in microbial physiology, biochemistry, molecular microbiology, bioinformatics, machine learning and modelling. As the results of this project will lead to an improved understanding of the key biogeochemical processes acting to produce high value compounds from waste, peer review publications are anticipated. The student will also have the opportunity to liaise with key industry and government stakeholders across the bioeconomy sector as well as presenting their work at both national and international symposia (e.g. at Microbiology Society, International Society for Microbial Ecology, RAMIRAN conferences).

This project will be supervised by Professor John McGrath and Dr Jason Chin (Queen’s University School of Biological Sciences), Professor Vincent O’Flaherty (NUI-Galway) and Professor Tim Lenton (University of Exeter).

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE). Please read the full information on eligibility criteria: View Website

However, there may be flexibility to fund a small number of exceptional International applicants.

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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