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DNA Helix

Cofund on Biotechnologies

Innovation for Europe – life science meets market application

7th Joint Call

In November 2015, the 7th and last transnational joint call for multilateral research projects using Industrial Biotechnology (IB) was launched by ERA-IB-2. This joint call was organized in collaboration with ERASynBio and ERA-NET Marine Biotechnology (ERA-MBT). ERASynBio was a self-sustained initiative of international funding agencies, working together to promote the robust development of Synthetic Biology and to structure and coordinate national efforts and funding programs and is now succeeded by ERA CoBioTech. ERA-MBT was a joint initiative for Marine Biotechnology-based research, which is expected to be followed by the ERA-Net Cofund Blue Bioeconomy.

This call has resulted in 9 granted projects out of 37 submitted full proposals. Unlike the previous six calls, this call had only one submission phase for proposals. The projects started by the end of 2016 or at the beginning of 2017.

  • OBAC
  • PolyBugs
  • ProWood
  • SafeFood
  • TIPs

Granted Projects

Novel BIOrefinery platform methodology for a driven production of CHEMicals from low-grade biomass


Marta Carballa Arcos Universidade de Santiago de Compostela Spain
Johanna Maukonen VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. Finland
An-Ping Zeng Technical University Hamburg-Harburg Germany



Producing chemicals from waste has two major positive environmental impacts: on the one hand it is a means of treating a residue, on the other hand it displaces the use of fossil fuels (or other non renewable raw materials) for the production of those chemicals. To date, the attempts to produce resources from waste have focused on the production of energy or biogas and only recently there has been interest on producing medium-high value chemicals. Mixed-culture fermentations are potential candidates to make the biosynthesis of chemicals economically attractive with respect to the chemical counterpart. In effect, in contrast with pure-culture processes, mixed-culture fermentations do not require sterile conditions and can easily operate in continuous. However, the behaviour of mixed-culture populations at new conditions is difficult to predict, making the development of a new process a formidable challenge. The main objective of BIOCHEM is to provide an integral method for design of mixed-culture fermentation with the aim of producing higher-value chemicals.
BIOCHEM relies on mathematical models to optimise the new process on two key aspects: ensure that the mixed-culture population produces the desired product and increase the rate of production As a demonstration, we will develop in BIOCHEM a process for the viable production of volatile fatty acids (VFA), i.e. acetic, propionic, butyric and valeric acids from low grade biomass (food wastes) by anaerobi (co-)fermentation. The selected case study is especially interesting. Acetic acid global demand is approximately 10.3 million tonnes with wide applications in paints, adhesives, protective coatings and polymers. Propionic, butyric and valeric acid are produced in smaller quantities but have a higher added value and are used in animal feed and food preservation. These VFAs can also be used as building blocks of longer chain organic acids, aldehydes and alcohols with a wider application range.


Overcoming energetic barriers in acetogenic conversion of carbon dioxide


Volker Mueller Goethe University Frankfurt Germany
Rolf Daniel Georg-August-Universität Göttinge Germany
Peter Dürre University of Ulm Germany
Christian Kennes University of La Coruña Spain
Wim van der Stricht ArcelorMittal Belgium/Poland



Demand for biofuels and other biologically derived commodities is growing worldwide as efforts increase to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and to limit climate change. Most commercial approaches rely on fermentations of organic matter with its inherent problems in producing CO2 and being in conflict with the food supply of humans. These problems are avoided if CO2 can be used as feedstock. Autotrophic organisms can fix CO2 by producing chemicals that are used as building blocks for the synthesis of cellular components (biomass).

Acetate-forming bacteria (acetogens) do neither require light nor oxygen for this and they can be used in bioreactors to reduce CO2 with hydrogen gas or carbon monoxide. The application of gas fermentation using CO2 (or CO) as feedstock for fermentation allows a broad spectrum of carbon-rich wastes (gas wastes, municipal waste and biomass after gasification) that are available globally today to be recycled into valuable chemical commodities, thus reducing society’s dependence on oil and overall greenhouse gas emissions. Gas fermentation using these bacteria has been realized on an industrial level in two pre-commercial 100,000 gal/yr demonstration facilities deployed at industrial sites to produce fuel ethanol from abundant waste gas resources (by LanzaTech); commercial gas fermentation units are currently in design. Other end products such as, for example, acetone, diols or olefins are not possible since they do not allow the bacteria to generate enough energy. OBAC will overcome the limitation of this promising next generation technology by engineering additional energy-generating modules into these bacteria. The aim is to develop processes with industrially-relevant economics, thus paving the way to a new CO2-based manufacturing sector. Thus, OBAC creates cutting-edge opportunities for the development of biosustainable technologies in Europe.


Development of tailor-made PHB composites for technical applications


Kevin Moser Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V. Germany
Bruno Ferreira Biotrend SA Portugal
Janusz Kazimierczak Institute of Biopolymers and Chemical Fibres Poland
Marek Warzala Institute of Heavy Organic Synthesis Blachownia Poland



PHB2MARKET will develop 100 % renewable, high-value composite materials consisting of the bio-polymer polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), cellulose nanofibers (CNF) and bio-based, multifunctional plasticizers (BMP). These materials will be made of sustainable industrial by-products or biomasses, using eco-efficient industrial biotechnology and chemical processes.

In Development Area 1 (DA1), biotechnology experts BIOTREND, IBWCh and ISCO will optimize biotechnological processes for the cost-effective conversion of industrial by-products and biomass into added-value products, and their further processing to bio-based composites and products. DA1 has the following aims:

  • Bacterial synthesis of different PHB with tailored crystallization properties
  • Enzymatic synthesis of high-strength cellulose reinforcements (CNF)
  • Chemical synthesis of bio-based functional plasticizers (BMP)

In DA2 the raw materials from DA1 will be combined to create high-value bio-composite material by compounding and subsequent conversion using injection molding and 3D-printing. The following main properties are targeted:

  • Improvement of the processability in injection moulding and 3D-printing
  • Improvement of the weld-line strength for high-quality 3D-printing parts
  • Reduced polymer chain degradation
  • Improvement of impact strength up to 80 kJ/m² and elongation at break up to 10 %
  • Preserving tensile strength (>25 MPa) and Young’s modulus (>1.5 GPa)

DA3 will transform the newly-developed composites into the two demonstrator parts: a frisbee (consumer products) and gearwheel (spare part applications). The aims of DA3 are:

  • Transfer of knowledge from DA2 into existing industrial processes, demonstrating the feasibility of industrial part production
  • Production of demo parts using injection moulding and 3D-printing
  • Validation of the substitution potential of PHB2MARKET composites


In vivo cascades for sustainable access to monomers of high volume polymer


Katja Bühler Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) Germany / Saxony
Eivind Almaas Norwegian University of Science and Technology – NTNU Norway
Joaquim Cabral Associação do Instituto Superior Técnico para a Investigação e Desenvolvimento (IST-ID) Portugal
Mieke Klein ifu Hamburg GmbH Germany
Steffen Schaffer Evonik Creavis GmbH Germany



Polymers have become increasingly important to our every day lives and contribute significantly to value generation in our economies, with examples of application of polymers ranging from high end applications in cars, planes, or medical equipment to items of daily use. Polymers have a vast application spectrum and are needed on multiple mega ton scales. Polymer building blocks like adipic acid or Ԑ-caprolactam have a couple of critical environmental issues connected to their production processes, such as generation of nitrous oxide waste and large amounts of salts and high energy consumption. Thus, there is a pressing demand for the development of ecoefficient and sustainable alternative production routes for such compounds. Nonetheless, all “bio”-inspired routes are commonly tailored for one single compound; a hurdle biotechnological developments very often feature.

Our project faces the challenge of developing a platform organism for the production of precursors for the high end polymer nylon 6 and other polymers. This task is based on enzymes derived from a novel strain which was isolated based on its capability to mineralize cycloalkanes (C5–C8) using these as sole sources of carbon and energy. Taking advantage of the highly active cyclohexane degrading enzymes of the respective degradation pathway this research program will develop a solvent tolerant, biofilm forming Pseudomonas strain towards a true platform organism for the synthesis of various polymer building blocks starting from cyclohexane. This concept will combine heterologous and native genes. Key products will be Ԑ-caprolactone, 6-aminohexanoic acid, and adipic acid. Looking at the complete process development chain in terms of biocatalyst understanding and design, reaction and reactor engineering in an integrating and iterative manner, focusing on one host for multiple products, and accompanying this work with an eco-efficiency balance represent the key-characteristics of this work program.


Wood and derivatives protection by novel bio-coating solutions


Carlos Barreiro Asociación de Investigación (INBIOTEC) Instituto de Biotecnología de León Spain
Luis Duarte LNEG Portugal
Edwin Kroke TU Bergakademie Freiberg Germany / Saxony
Teodora Rusu 'Petru Poni' Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry (PPIMC) Romania
Håvard Sletta SINTEF Materials and Chemistry Norway



The European Union (EU27) woodworking industry consists today of more than 380,000 companies and employs more than 2.1 million workers. The European industrial interest on wood decay processes is both to accelerate (biorefinery) and to prevent wood degradation (decay). While, the hydrolytic degradation processes are extensively studied and improved for biofuels production, the prevention of wood degradation has received less attention, even though, the preservation of wood structures against decomposition is an old challenge. The effect on wood of environmental factors (sun, water, chemicals or fire) and, due to its natural origin, low resistance against biotic agents (moulds, bacteria and insects) cause a progressive diminution of its mechanical properties and biodeterioration. Although, there are products for wood protection available on the market they do not meet the expectations in terms of efficiency, price and long term activity, whereas some of them release toxic substances.

The project ProWood (Protection of Wood) is an interdisciplinary 6-members Consortium of molecular biologists, (bio)chemical engineers and industrial partners selected for their know-how in biotechnology, bio-coating development, wood handling and validation processes. ProWood aims the development of novel solution(s) for wood decay protection under the light of the previous and successful developments and knowledge of the Partners. Thus, the combination of bio-based coating solutions with biological decay antagonists guarantees an industrial-relevant solution. The workplan of ProWood consists of four Research and Analysis workpackages (WP) and one of Management and Dissemination. These WPs cover the process from the initial definition of coating precursors (chemistry) and the biological antagonists (biotechnology) to the combined coating demonstration and validation (industry) and the industrial use (market). Thus, ProWood walks along the entire value chain of wood protection.


Development of a novel industrial process for safe, sustainable and higher quality foods, using biotechnology and cybernetic approach


Nadav Bar Norwegian University of Sciences and Technology Norway
Petri Auvinen Univerisity of Helsinki Finland
Manuela Hernández Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Spain
Trond Løvdal NOFIMA Norway
Anca Nicolau Dunarea de Jos University of Galati Romania
Helena Nunes APA PROCESSING BZ, SL Spain
Luisa Peixe ICETA/University of Porto Portugal
Christian Riedel University of Ulm Germany



Bacterial growth in food is a major risk issue, with large consequences on the health, safety, environment and economy of food consumers and manufacturers. Minimally processed food is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, but it is susceptible to bacterial growth, including the human pathogen Listeria monocytogenes (LM). Various treatments exist, including thermal treatment, salt additives, etc., but not all are suitable to purge fresh food from bacteria, due to considerations of taste, texture, quality and health (such as reducing salt concentrations).

High pressure processing (HPP) is a promising method as it can kill most bacteria with no adverse sensory side effects on the quality of many food product groups. However, it has a limited success, since some bacteria, including LM, manages to recover rapidly from high pressure treatment, increasing the risk of food contamination.

This transnational SafeFood industrial biotechnology project unites 8 groups from 6 countries across Europe, with the purpose to turn food safer, by killing the LM. The consortium will study which mechanisms allow LM to survive HPP, and neutralize these by using advance biotechnology methods. By collaborating with the food industry, APAP and its owner and food producer NOEL, we will identify food additives that can prevent LM from surviving HPP, leaving the food itself purged.

Following a successful testing period, a patent application will be filed for the SafeFood solution. By a new spin-off company after the project ends, an application to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be submitted for evaluation of the additives. The scientific results will be published in open source dedicated journals and sites. The collaboration between the groups will promote the spread of IB competence and education across european countries. SafeFood will provide safer and healthier food products for the public, improved economy and export, and reduce food waste.




Marta Mendes IBMC - Instituto de Biologia Molecular e Celular Portugal
Jesús F. Aparicio Universidad de León Spain
Harald Gross University of Tuebingen Germany
Felix Hausch Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry Germany
Antonio Rodríguez García Asociación de Investigación Inbiotec Instituto de Biotecnología de León Spain
Håvard Sletta SINTEF Matarials and Chemistry Norway
Wolfgang Wohlleben Eberhard-Karls-Universitaet Tuebingen Germany



In the last decade significant efforts have been made in the development of “universal” hosts for the expression of natural products derived from bacterial specialized metabolism. This approach has originated promising results regarding the identification of novel bioactive compounds. However, the production yields are low unveiling a deficient metabolic flux background and undermining this strategy for downstream industrial applications that rely on high production yields. TACRODRUGS introduces the concept of a “specialized” expression host that combines the stability features of the universal expression host with the metabolic fitness for producing high added-value products.

The main goal of TACRODRUGS is to develop a sustainable and robust microbial industrial platform for the production of tacrolimus and non-immunosuppressive tacrolimus analogues (tacrologues) through the synergic use of synthetic biology principles and metabolic engineering methodologies, guided by global metabolic network understanding.


Thermostable Isomerase Processes for Biotechnology


Juan Miguel Gonzalez Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Spain
Nils-Kåre Birkeland University of Bergen Norway
Peter Schönheit Christian-Albrechts-Universitat Kiel Germany



The TIPs project focuses on the provision of novel thermostable isomerases from thermophilic microorganisms and metagenomes and their biotechnological applications. Isomers are molecules with identical atomic composition but with different structural characteristics. Different isomers can show very distinctive function. The formation of isomers often reduces the productivity of biotechnological and chemical processes because only one of the two or more isomers is utilized in biocatalytic reactions (reducing the final efficiency to below 50%).

Isomerases are enzymes catalyzing the conversion between different types of isomers. Using the appropriate isomerase enzyme in the industrial process will increase production efficiency resulting in 100% conversion of a racemic substrate to the product. Thermostable isomerases are desired because they possess high resistance and durability, are able to withstand harsh industrial process conditions, including heating and organic solvents. Elevated temperatures can also enhance substrate accessibility and solubility. The proposed project includes comparative bioinformatic analyses of sequence data to identify different classes of thermostable isomerases of industrial interest which will be cloned, over-expressed, functionally and structurally characterized and optimized towards their biotechnological application.

Three types of isomerases will be targeted: sugar isomerases (to produce new desirable sugars for calorie-free sweeteners and as building blocks for drugs), disulfide isomerases (to improve protein folding and stability of industrial enzymes), and chalcone isomerases (involved in the transformation of flavonoids, secondary metabolites of importance as natural colorants, anti-oxidants, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory agents). Durable isomerases will allow new opportunities for green, competitive and sustainable biotechnological processes that can replace conventional chemical synthesis.


Engineering of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae for bioconversion of pectin-containing agro-industrial side-streams


Elke Nevoigt Jacobs University Bremen Germany
Wolfgang Liebl TU München Germany
Peter Richard VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd Finland
Isabel Sa-Correia Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Lisbon Portugal
Johan Thevelein GlobalYeast Belgium



The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae has become a favorite organism in industrial biotechnology. The exceptional ease of targeted genetic engineering and the availability of an extensive toolbox for synthetic and systems biology have helped to overcome some of yeast's natural limitations in the context of consolidated bioprocessing of plant biomass. The first commercial processes for bioethanol production with lignocellulosic substrates have been established, and a robust engineered industrial strain with high performance for xylose utilization and lignocellulosic inhibitor tolerance represents the starting platform of YEASTPEC.

Besides lignocellulosic waste streams, cheap agro-industrial residues rich in pectin represent attractive substrates for industrial biotechnology which are largely unexplored so far. In Europe, particularly pulp from the sugar beet and fruit juice industry is available in huge amounts. Apart from glucose, sugar beet pulp hydrolysates are particularly rich in galacturonic acid (GalA) and arabinose. Both sugars cannot be naturally used by S. cerevisiae.

The YEASTPEC consortium is composed of researchers with complementary experience in metabolic engineering of industrial yeast, GalA, arabinose and glycerol catabolic pathways, yeast stress tolerance as well as enzymatic poly- and oligosaccharide hydrolysis. Within YEASTPEC, a robust industrial S. cerevisiae strain will be developed that is able to secrete enzymes for hydrolyzing the polysaccharides in sugar beet pulp and ferment all abundant monosaccharides, i.e. glucose, GalA and arabinose, into ethanol. One major novelty of our approach is that we address the inherent redox problem of the heterologous GalA catabolic pathways by co-feeding glycerol and appropriately engineering the glycerol catabolic pathway. Notably, glycerol is a major low-value by-product of current biodiesel production and thus also available in huge quantities. The industrial strain will also be engineered for improved process robustness during industrial fermentation of sugar beet pulp hydrolysates.