Chemicals and fuels from methane gas
Lab rotation project description
During the six weeks rotation, the student will become familiar with the growth and manipulation of methanotrophic organisms and the use of the various gene tools available.
Specifically, they will:
(i) learn how to cultivate methanotrophic organisms using methane as the sole carbon source;
(ii) how to electro-transform and conjugate from E.coli into methanotrophic organisms, how to screen putative mutants by colony PCR and agarose gel electrophoresis; learn how to assemble complex operons via Gibson/USER assembly, and; become familiar with DNA analysis software, CLC Bio WorkBench, DNASTAR and Vector NTI.
(iii) undertake CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene knock-out.
LR1, LR2 and LR3
Linked PhD Project Outline
To compete with existing chemical manufacturing processes based on petrochemical derived raw materials, low cost feedstocks for biological fermentation processes are essential, since the feedstock typically equates to >60% of the overall production cost. In addition, the yield based on carbon needs to be high, which is very difficult to achieve with sugars or cellulosic feedstocks with a high oxygen content, since the oxygen is lost as CO2. The same holds true for the production of biofuels. Methane (CH4) is one of the lowest cost carbon sources available in the abundance required to produce bio-based commodity chemicals and fuels on a scale that could replace existing chemical manufacturing processes. Efforts to use natural gas in transportation, either directly or by conversion to a liquid fuel, have been spurred by recent increases in available supply and a growing price spread between natural gas and petroleum, especially in the United States. A disruptive production process based on CH4 would accelerate the growth and market penetration of biobased chemicals and fuels considerably, not only replacing existing chemical processes, but also 1st and 2nd generation sugar/cellulosics processes. Aerobic methanotrophs represent the only available route for methane bioconversion, activating methane to methanol via methane monooxygenase(MMO) and subsequently converting methanol to formaldehyde en route to chemical and fuel production.
AIM: In this project, we will explore the possibility of using methane as a feedstock for the production of chemicals and fuels useful to industry; to improve the rates and energy efficiencies of methane uptake, as well as approaches to engineer high-productivity methane conversion organisms.
STRATEGY: Our aim will be progress through the following activities:- (i) identifying the most appropriate methane-utilising chassis; (ii) implementing the requisite gene technologies for modifying the organism; (iii) using synthetic biology to engineer the strain to produce an exemplar platform chemical, and; (v) optimising the fermentation process to be used in a continuous stirred tank reactor (CSTR) as benchmark for the evaluation of production strains in various gas fermentation reactor designs.
THE TRAINING: This translational project will be carried out within the BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC) at Nottingham which comprises 90+ graduate and postdoctoral researchers (www.clostron.com/people.php) and a current budget of £27M. The study will allow for training in a unique multidisciplinary environment, incorporating anaerobic gas fermentation, Synthetic Biology, microbial physiology, metabolic engineering and computer modelling. The student will have the opportunity to travel to, and work in, CHINA, as well as in Sheffield and Oxford.