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Santala, Mangayil and Rissanen become Academy Research Fellows

Published on 2.5.2022
Tampere University
Info graphics, figurative pieces and structures of the University building.
The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment has appointed 22 new Academy Research Fellows. At Tampere University, Suvi Santala, Rahul Mangayil and Antti Rissanen from the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences received funding for their projects.

The Research Council for Biosciences, Health and the Environment made the decisions emphasising the high scientific quality of the projects, a focus on international cooperation, and the applicants’ rising career trajectories.

This year, the Research Council’s total funding for Academy Research Fellows came to nearly €10 million. The Research Council received 176 applications, and the success rate was around 13%.  Women accounted for 32% of the grantees and 49% of the applicants.

Information on bio-based chemical production from lignin and carbon dioxide

Suvi Santala’s project is called “Metabolic integration of lignin and CO2 utilisation for enhanced carbon recovery and bioproduction (LingCO2)”.

The lignin fraction of plant biomass is a highly abundant but currently underutilised renewable resource. On the other hand, finding ways to utilise CO2 is strongly encouraged for environmental and climatic reasons. Microbe-based platforms for upgrading these substrates are slowly emerging, but there are significant challenges related to both carbon sources; lignin is difficult to degrade, and the product range of CO2-based processes is thermodynamically limited.

In the project, the challenges related to both substrates are addressed by exploiting bacterial metabolism in an innovative way, enhancing the efficiency of upgrading both CO2 and lignin.

The study conducted at Tampere University will produce new information and strategies for the biobased production of chemicals from lignin and CO2.

Increasing functional materials in bacterial cellulose

Rahul Mangaylin’s project engineers protein secretion routes in Komagataeibacter rhaeticus to design growing functional materials

The biological engineered living materials research approach focuses on engineering microbes to secrete proteins and augment biomaterials with novel smart properties. Native material self-assembly, production ease, and biodegradability makes bacterial cellulose one of the model scaffold systems used in the field.

However, the lack of genetic tools to engineer protein secretion platforms and the knowledge gap on the native secretion routes in nanocellulose producers have directed researchers to adopt co-cultivation and direct enzyme immobilisation techniques.

To overcome this challenge, the project investigates the specificity of proteins in cellulose-producing bacteria and develops genetic tools for doing so. The project exploits the potential of synthetic biology to enhance the functionalities of a multifunctional material.

Using specific genetic tools, recombinant secretion modules are engineered to functionalise bacterial cellulose. The functional biomaterial is investigated for plastic depolymerisation capacity with the tools created in the study.

New information on methane consumption in lakes

Antti Rissanen’s study explores new bacterial processes in the global carbon cycle and methane emission reduction.

The study aims at revealing the role of novel microaerobic and anaerobic methane oxidation processes by gammaproteobacterial methanotrophs in consuming greenhouse gas methane in lakes. The processes are detected and measured by field observations and by experimental incubations of lake samples and isolated lake methanotrophs.

The study uses 13C-isotopic techniques as well as modern molecular biological study methods. The global occurrence of the genetic potential of the processes will also be investigated by analysing international nucleotide databases.

The results will change the prevailing scientific understanding of methane consumption and can be used to assess the impact of global change on the methane oxidation capacity of ecosystems. The study will also isolate new species of methanotrophs. The studied processes also have high biotechnological potential in the commercial utilisation of bio- and natural gas.

Photograph: Jonne Renvall