Ligniflex: A synthetic biology platform to optimise the process and products of enzymatic lignin disruption

Our goal is to test the feasibility of producing low molecular weight aromatic chemical feedstocks from the lignin that is currently a waste product from wood processing and paper manufacturing, so that it may be used to manufacture useful products. We propose to develop a "front-end" to optimise the conversion of lignin into its constitutive aromatic chemical building blocks. This technology may be bolted to any "back-end" in a biorefinery to produce bioplastics, biosurfactants, biomaterials and so on. By exploring and optimising a technology which allows for the rapid tuning of bacteria or fungi for exploiting the conversion of lignin, we stand to limit waste by being able to optimise the degradation products being used as chemical feedstocks and diversify the range of end-bioproducts possible.

The proposed work uses a novel synthetic biology platform to create gene combinations which give the optimal degradation (with regards to efficiency and products produced) of waste lignin. These combinations may then be used as a starting point to generate further combinations in an iterative design-make-test process. This will create value for the user in terms of improvements in the yield of lignin conversion to useable feedstock. In addition to enabling the optimisation of enzyme blends for any given application, analysis of the results will allow the team to develop heuristics which will facilitate the rational design of whole biomass processing systems in the future, and will lead to a deeper understanding of biomass degradation processes. The technology developed will be offered to the marketplace by Ingenza Ltd. There are a number of possible routes for commercialisation including: i.) Biomanufacture of bulk quantities of the enzyme blend for sale direct to biorefinery operators. ii.) Licensing of the specific cell line as a lignolytic processing tool. iii.) Provision of a contract service to customers wishing to have a bespoke digestion chassis.

Principal Investigator: 

Professor Alistair Elfick

Research Institutes: 

  • Bioengineering

Research Themes: 

  • Bioengineering