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Robust Bioprocess Design and Engineering for Novel Biosurfactant Production

Department of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding

About the Project

Biosurfactants are naturally occurring amphiphiles with a range of unique properties including biodegradability and tolerance of a wide range of temperature and pH. These properties have led to increasing commercialisation by a number of companies in recent years, in a range of cleaning and personal care products, along with an increasing demand for new biosurfactant structures. A wide variety of biosurfactant producing microorganisms can be found throughout nature, providing a wealth of diversity to be explored for novel biosurfactant molecules.

In order to exploit the available biosurfactant diversity there is a need for a combined genetic and bioprocess engineering approach, especially if novel molecules are to be exploited industrially. In particular efficient, scalable and high productivity fermentation processes must be developed1. Using a metagenomics approach the olsB gene involved in the synthesis of a novel lyso-ornithine lipid biosurfactant was identified from a metagenomic library prepared from sediment collected at the Buffelspruit Dam, Bela Bela, Limpopo Province, South Africa. The novel olsB gene has been expressed in E. coli and the lyso-ornithine lipid biosurfactant characterised, with their potential suitability for use in industrial applications having been explored2.

To realise the potential of this novel lyso-ornithine lipid biosurfactant the next step is to scale up production in order to assess the full spectrum of performance parameters and identify the most relevant products/processes and industries for further development of the biosurfactant as a high-value bioactive. This requires a biochemical engineering approach to develop a scalable and robust fermentation process for lyso-ornithine lipid production and the investigation of the use of inexpensive substrates, such as crude or waste materials, to reduce production cost.

During this PhD project a robust and scalable bioreactor process for biosurfactant production will be engineered, to give a high productivity, high titre novel lyso-ornithine lipid producing bioprocess. The project builds on previous work carried out by the Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics (IMBM), University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Funding Notes

Applicants should have or be expected to achieve a 2.1 honours degree or higher in Chemical / Biochemical Engineering.


1Dolman, BD et al. 2017, Process Biochemistry, 54(162-171)
2Williams, W et al. 2019 Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 103(4429-4441)

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