Faster and more efficient protein production with new technology: the Robolector

April 14, 2022

The protein transition has increased the demand for alternative sources of protein. The Robolector, a new type of fermenter, enables businesses and institutes to speed up protein selection and make it more efficient. In cooperation with Foodvalley NL and with a subsidy from the Regio Deal Foodvalley, this equipment was purchased by Shared Research Facilities, part of Wageningen University & Research (WUR). The device is located at GINKGO (formerly Dutch DNA) in Utrecht. This exceptional technology can be deployed to develop proteins from fungi and is available for shared use by other businesses and institutes.

With its research, WUR aims to contribute to the global protein transition.
This technology can accelerate this transition. The acquisition of the
Robolector, a new type of fermenter, enables faster and more efficient
production of proteins. Sampling is automated and continues through the night,
which substantially increases the efficiency of research projects. ‘Normally,
the process of selecting the best strains may take up to twenty weeks. The
Robolector enables us to identify the best strain and processing conditions
faster,’ says Martijn Bekker, a Wageningen Food & Biobased Research researcher.

Increased possibilities through shared use

‘Moreover, it helps that GINKGO Bioworks offers support for the use of the device’, Martijn says. The machine is located at GINKGO Bioworks in Utrecht. Pascal van Alphen, head of the fermentation research department at GINKGO Bioworks Netherlands, elaborates: ‘The acquisition of the Robolector was much needed for GINKGO Bioworks. Our organisation, however, lacked the funds to buy the device. Shared Research Facilities, a part of WUR that focuses on the shared use of advanced research equipment within and outside their knowledge institute, assisted us in finding interested partners.’

‘Through financial support by the Regio Deal Foodvalley and shared use, buying the device was made possible. Regio Deal aims to foster collaboration and activities in the domain of sustainability. Thus, the different interests merged.’

Increased success rate

Martijn Bekker states: ‘This device allows us to better develop fundamental knowledge, enabling us to join academic EU projects at a higher level. It also allows us to move faster in launching public-private research projects. We will have more to offer, to businesses as well. The entire process can now be outsourced to us.’ As an example, he cites the WUR project Plentitude, which is developing a protein from a fungus. ‘This process can be accelerated with the Robolector.’

This device allows us to better develop fundamental knowledge, enabling us to join academic EU projects at a higher level.
Martijn Bekker, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research

In research, and therefore also in cooperation with companies, there is always a risk that no result will be achieved. Cornelis Mijnders, who focuses on business development at GINKGO Bioworks, says that the Robolector increases the success rate. ‘That is what I consider the most important aspect of this investment. Whether the device is used for a customer or research, it becomes easier to convince others that you will be successful due to the efficient selection process.

Collaboration and knowledge exchange

All of the involved parties are open to sharing their knowledge and experience: GINKGO Bioworks, Wageningen University & Research, Foodvalley NL and the Utrecht University (UU) Biology department. The exchange of knowledge will be continued with future partners as well. That is the advantage of the agreements that pertain to the shared use. Naturally, sensitive information cannot be shared, but knowledge about the device can and will be shared towards the joint goal of achieving a protein transition.

The Robolector means we see more of each other. I see opportunities.
Cornelis Mijnders, GINKGO Bioworks

Mijnders sees plenty of opportunities for collaboration. ‘The Robolector means we see more of each other. I see opportunities, for example, in applying for funding for (EU) projects. And, for us, the expertise of universities is great because it fortifies our position in dealing with customers.’ Moreover, Mijnders values the opportunities students will have to gain experience within a company. ‘We feel a responsibility to help students prepare for the employment market. This also strengthens the positions of WUR and the UU.’

More applications within WUR

Bekker and his team are pioneers within WUR. ‘We are the first to use this high-tech device. We have already noticed enthusiasm in other groups, such as microbiology. We expect to see an increase in the use of this robot within the university as faith in the technology increases.’

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