VTT and Deinove Partner to Optimize Ethanol and Chemicals Production from Renewable Feedstocks Using Self-Repairing Extremophile Deinococcus

Deinococcus
Deinococcus radiodurans. Photo credit: M.J. Daly, USUHS, Deinove. Click to enlarge.

Deinove, a company specializing in the systematic exploration of the bacterial genus Deinococcus for biofuels and green chemistry, will partner with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Ten senior VTT researchers will team up with Deinove and its French academic partners from CNRS and INSA to leverage the properties of Deinococcus bacteria in the digestion of biomass and the development of an integrated process for the bioproduction of ethanol and chemicals from renewable feedstocks.

The general objective of the work plan established by Deinove and VTT is to evaluate the different Deinococcus candidate strains screened by Deinove for the Deinol cellulosic ethanol production process. The Deinol process will then be scaled-up and tested in an industrial pilot by the sugar company Tereos.

The Deinol project has received with €8.9 million (US$11.1 million) in financial support from the Strategic Industrial Innovation programme run by Oséo, the French state innovation agency. The goal is to validate and quantify the bacteria’s performance levels for bioethanol production.

The Deinol project’s objective is to open up (by 2014) new pathways for both improved production of ethanol from feed grain and access to second-generation production from lignocellulosic feedstocks in existing industrial installations and without the need for additional investment.

The project has four major deliverables:

  • An increase in ethanol production yield by using the deinococci’s cellulolytic and hemicellulolytic activities.
  • An increase in the fermentation liquor’s bioethanol content.
  • An increase in the fermentation temperature: Deinove is targeting fermentation at 50° Celsius, i.e. a 20° increase over the current process. This can increase the efficiency of the biochemical fermentation reactions and limit contamination by other micro-organisms.
  • Reduction in the input of yeasts and enzymes.

Deinococcus. Bacteria belonging to the family Deinococcaceae are some of the most radiation-resistant organisms yet discovered, notes Dr. Michael Daly at USHUS (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences), who has been working with the bacteria for years.

Deinococcus radiodurans was first reported in 1956; its resistance characteristics are being exploited in the development of bioremediation processes for cleanup of highly radioactive US Department of Energy waste sites.

The bacteria can survive extremely high exposures to desiccation and ionizing radiation, which shatter its genome into hundreds of short DNA fragments, and readily reassemble those fragments into a functional 3.28-megabase genome.

Deinove co-founder Professor Miroslav Radman worked out the unique mechanism by which Deinococcus performs this repair. The details of this discovery were published in the journal Nature in 2006 and patented by Deinove. The mechanism is used by these robust but non-pathogenic bacteria to survive in very hostile environments.

Deinococci thrive by efficiently degrading biomass and extracting the sugar that can be fermented into ethanol.

Deinove’s research work has confirmed the extreme robustness of the bacteria vis-à-vis various types of stress (ionizing radiation, desiccation, solvents, ethanol, butanol, acid and alkaline milieus, high temperature, etc.) and their ability to integrate large genomic fragments from other micro-organisms. These properties are key success factors for the company’ target industrial applications.

At the start of 2008, the international public collection of deinococci contained only 45 strains, 8 of which were thermophiles capable of growing at temperatures above 45°C. Most of the 700 scientific articles published to date on the Deinococcus genus concern the mesophilic species Deinococcus radiodurans; only twenty or so only cover the other species within the genus. No patents involving deinococci (other than those filed by Deinove) have been published in the field of biofuels and antibiotics.

Deinove says it has already achieved the following milestones:

  • Creation of an ever-growing library of more than 5,500 strains with a wide variety of metabolic properties.
  • Selection of a unique collection of thermophilic deinococci capable of growing at over 45°C.
  • The identification of many metabolic functions of interest.
  • The implementation of metabolic, genetic and fermentation engineering tools with a view to optimizing the strains’ industrial performance levels.
  • Broad, international patent applications for protecting these inventions.

Deinove is now working to optimize the strains’ metabolism and improve their fermentation capacities.

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