By Dr Jude Huggan, Business Development Manager, NCIMB
I was delighted to see microbes being given top billing at the BBIA Spring event held at the Society of Chemical Industry in London last week. It was great to have the opportunity to present at the event and highlight the potential that microbes within NCIMB Ltd’s unique and diverse microbial biorepository have in helping to provide sustainable solutions to some of the big challenges facing society today.
The BBIA Spring event, titled “The Power of Microbes in the Development of the Circular Economy” brought together innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers and legislators with a focus on driving new developments in the UK’s thriving biotech sector to help deliver a circular economy. NCIMB has been preserving, storing, and distributing microorganisms that have potential for industrial application for decades. We have also been working with researchers from academia and industry to realise that potential for many years, but it feels as though we have now turned a corner with respect to the level of interest in developing microbial solutions, and the urgency with which people are approaching the challenge of delivering a circular economy – and this event was a great reflection of that.
I spoke in the afternoon session, which also included presentations showcasing some of the important work being carried out by researchers involved in using microbes for environmental applications, as well as updates from funding agencies and scale up facilities – a real mix of speakers showcasing the wonderful innovation ecosystem we have here in the UK. Presentations included:
- Nick Cliffe from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) talking about the role of biodegradable and compostable plastics in the food supply chain, and the role of UKRI in supporting innovation in these areas.
- Dr Athanasios Dimitriou from the Biocomposites Centre, Bangor University describing their pilot biomanufacturing facilities, which are capable of scaling processes from TRL 4 to TRL 6.
- Dr Meng Zhang, from Northumbria University talking about the application of microbial biotechnology to the built environment, particularly living construction – the presentation included some amazing examples of furniture made out of mycelium.
- Prof Mathew Davidson, from the University of Bath introducing iCAST – the Innovation Centre for Applied Sustainable Technologies. He highlighted some key examples of projects they’ve been involved in around sustainable manufacturing, circular plastics, and sustainable materials – all really exciting!
That left me to close out the session and I was the only thing keeping the audience from their afternoon coffee…so how would I grab the audiences’ attention? Talk about Madonna and microbial superheroes, of course! At NCIMB, we believe microbes truly are nature’s superheroes, with the ability to manufacture many of the products and processes we rely on, but in a much more sustainable way.
Mankind was relying on microorganisms, the processes they carry out and the products they can make, long before these tiny organisms were discovered or fully understood. However, we have barely scratched the surface in terms of exploiting what microorganisms can do for us. The low cost and easy availability of petrochemicals throughout the 20 th century inhibited the uptake of new biotechnological solutions, with some traditionally used microbial products being replaced with fossil fuel derivatives. However, it’s clear that a change is urgently needed, and that microbes have a central role in meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals. What’s more, the research tools and technology that are now available, such as machine learning, AI, and engineering biology, make screening microbes a much more viable process. My call to action for the audience was to get in
touch with us should they wish to screen the collection for novel genes, enzymes, metabolites or other useful products and help drive us towards a circular economy. We can work with other organisations in a variety of different ways – from the supply and licensing of strains, through to collaborative research, development and screening projects.
This was a great event to be part of, with such energy and enthusiasm from delegates around the circular economy, I skipped back north (not literally, thanks British Airways!) thinking about the bright future that could lie ahead, all powered by the wonderful world of microbes.