Three million euros awarded to fundamental research on micro-organisms

Published on
August 2, 2022

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) awarded three million euros to the research on controlling micro-organisms to achieve maximum output, by Ruud Weusthuis, professor Microbial Biotechnology. His research will make it possible to produce chemicals more sustainably, reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Ruud Weusthuis applied for the funding as a member of the Bioprocess Engineering chair group of Wageningen University & Research (WUR). The research project is called: “Control of electrons in microbial metabolism”.

Curiosity-driven, fundamental research is necessary for innovations that make society economically successful and socially resilient. The ENW XL-grant gives researchers the opportunity and freedom to start, strengthen or expand excellent, challenging and innovative lines of research.

Achieving the maximum with micro-organisms

Society is in need of sustainably produced chemicals, which in turn increasingly reduces the need to use fossil fuels and minimises CO2 emissions. Micro-organisms can play a role in this, because they are able to execute hundreds of chemical reactions at the same time.

As such, the study also aims to achieve the maximum output using micro-organisms through controlled methods. The maximum output from microbial processes will be achieved when all the electrons from the source material are retained in the product. It is therefore necessary to acquire control of the electrons in the metabolic process in order to achieve the greatest possible output.

During the metabolic process, electrons are distributed across dozens of chemical reactions via the NAD+/NADH redox cofactor, which makes the desired control difficult to obtain. For this reason, industrial micro-organisms in the project will be equipped with the new redox cofactors NMN+/NMNH. These will only link to the reactions that are involved in the desired conversion. The control over the electrons gained through this process is a breakthrough that will enable microbial processes to be optimised better than is currently possible.”

The co-applicants of this research

  • Dr Markus Bisschops and Dr Nico Claassens (WUR) (ATV)
  • Prof. Bas Teusink and Prof. Frank Bruggeman (VU)
  • Prof. Pascale Daran-Lapujade and Dr Caroline Paul (TU Delft)
  • Dr Pablo Ivan Nikel of The Novo Nordisk Foundation, Center for Biosustainability