Team:Amsterdam/Human practices/App scenario
Together with Synenergene, we developed several application scenarios in which we developed specific ways in which our technology could be implemented in society. We interviewed experts working in the field of sustainable bioproduction (Photanol, AlgeaPARC) and biotech policy (HollandBio) to explore various aspects of the bio-based economy and the potential role of our technology in it, as well as political and economic aspects that might influence such role. We tried to encapsulate the knowledge we gathered throughout this process in our application scenarios, resulting in a twenty-page document that outlines the need, development, obstacles, and promises of the biotech industry, our consortium, and specific ways in which companies and organisations could use a consortia-based bioproduction approach to change the world around us, including graphics that illustrate the scenarios. A summarized version of the application scenarios can be found below. The full version is available here [insert download link].
Synthetic Consortia & the End of the Oil Age
Application Scenarios - Summary
iGEM Amsterdam & Synenergene
For decades, scientific breakthroughs and technological progress in biotechnology have empowered the notion of the bioeconomy, in which biomass is used to produce society’s energy, chemicals and materials. More than that, the bioeconomy has been postulated as a crucial component in the much-needed transition to a more sustainable world -- one that is, above all, less dependent on fossil fuels. But despite the promises and progress of biotech, the bioeconomy has far from realised its full potential. In part, the biorefineries that are supposed to provide the foundation of a sustainable bioeconomy simply don’t exist yet; classic bioproduction methods often rely on feedstock that competes with arable land, while ‘green’ solutions using cyanobacteria lack the required productivity or are vexed by issues of genetic instability.
In our iGEM project, we aim to tackle this issue by developing an enabling technology for self-sustaining biorefineries based on a synthetic consortium of phototrophs and chemotrophs for the stable production of virtually any product for which the latter can be engineered. The idea is simpler than the last sentence: Synechocystis, a cyanobacterium that requires CO2 and light to grow, is designed to produce and share sugars, which can be used by a chemotroph, like E. coli or yeast, for the production of an end-product, like a biofuel of specialty chemical. We’re essentially coupling a biotechnological sustainability module - a photosynthesis-based engine of microbial fuel production - to traditionally unsustainable but better-established methods of high-yield bioproduction via chemotroph fermentation. In the following application scenarios, we contextualize possible applications of this technology by describing three companies whose business model is based on it.
Founded by the original 2015 iGEM team, Duosion Green Technology (DGT) is a microbial consortium engineering company that develops ecosystems consisting of microbial strains to produce compounds in a more sustainable way through the addition of the cyanobacterial solar-to-chemical energy module or more complex products through distributed metabolic pathways. Duosion licenses these custom strains to leading producers, which use the engineered consortium strains in their bioreactors to produce a desired end product.
Filling the gap opened by the change in energy policies after the Paris Climate Conference, Bio-independence designs and produces easy-maintenance, low-budget bioreactors hosting photosynthesis-coupled synthetic consortia for sustainable production. These reactors are mostly deployed in rural areas for agricultural communities, where the goal is to provide food supplements or additives either for human or cattle consumption. The final product is customized based on the client community’s needs. Depending on the location and situation of the community, end products may range from probiotics and antioxidants to vitamin B12 and L-threonine. Besides direct consumption, products may be sold via Bio-independence’s network of producers as extra income, which can initially be used to repay the microcredits used to acquire the bioreactors. If cost-effective production can be achieved at small scale in the future, commodities like propane (fueling local machinery and heating equipment) and nitrate (used as local fertilizer) could also be produced.
Cloyster, a Multinational company founded by former members of Shell in 2019, is the necessary transition of oil and gas manufacturers into more sustainable producers of biofuels. Cloyster has as many bioreactor designs as the amount of different substances it produces. But for consortia systems in general, two chamber bioreactors are used where Synechocystis is grown in flat or tubular panels and medium is pumped out and filtered to the chemotroph compartment where the product is made. The major factor influencing the design of the later chamber is the chemical properties of the product it wants to extract. Its department for biofuel production currently focuses on the production of easy-to-extract propane at large scale used for the heating of entire cities. That said, efforts are under way to develop cost-effective production methods for a variety of other, high-alkane biofuels. Also, Cloyster’s biorefineries function in closed-loop systems with existing industrial facilities for the production of chemicals, plastics and cement.