Information for Researchers, No. 79 | September 20, 2021

Priority Programme “Novel Production Processes through Cross-Scale Analysis, Modeling and Design of Cell-Cell and Cell-Bioreactor Interactions (InterZell)” (SPP 2170)

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved the extension of the Priority Programme “Novel Production Processes through Cross-Scale Analysis, Modeling and Design of Cell-Cell and Cell-Bioreactor Interactions (InterZell)” (SPP 2170). This call invites project proposals for the second three-year funding period.

More than 95 percent of the microbial flora cannot be cultivated in pure culture, but only in mixed culture (biological dark matter). Their potential for the production of natural products and biopharmaceuticals (incl. antibiotics) can at best be imagined on the basis of the dominant approach of pure culture. At the same time, the rapid development of synthetic biology offers novel opportunities to modify already established laboratory systems, such as Escherichia coli, so that individual strains optimally take over individual production tasks and only their symbiosis in mixed culture enables the production of the target product.

Once bioprocesses have been newly developed, the performance data from the laboratory have to be transferred without any losses to the large-volume production scale. This requires a deep understanding of the interactions between the producing cells and the sometimes harsh real production conditions. Although essential for the accurate prediction and optimisation of the processes, the necessary quantitative understanding is not sufficiently available yet.

The Priority Programme therefore sets a defined research objective on cell-cell and cell-bioreactor interactions in biotechnological production processes for the production of raw materials, fine chemicals, aroma substances, technical or therapeutic proteins as well as pharmaceutically active components such as antibiotics or precursors of drug synthesis. The programme explicitly does not consider cell-cell interactions of biological consortia of soil, water or waste air treatment, but focuses on the production of the above mentioned substances under the controlled conditions of industrial bioreactors.

Microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and fungi, but also mammalian cells such as CHO (Chinese Hamster Ovary cells) may be used as producers. Monocultures can only be applied in the programme as part of basic cell bioreactor studies for scale-up. Cell-cell interactions are to be performed by producing synthetic mixed cultures.
The term “synthetic mixed culture” encompasses the synergistic production of a target product either by the novel assembly of native strains or by the co-cultivation of genetically modified strains with distributed production tasks.

New biotechnical process principles based on synthetic mixed cultures and/or tools for the successful transfer from laboratory to technical scale without loss of performance are expected to be developed. The present call for proposals for the second funding phase of the Priority Programme focuses in particular on the implementation of promising approaches to cell-cell or cell-bioreactor interaction. The research should focus on at least one of the following questions:

  • quantitative characterisation and use of synthetic mixed cultures for production processes
  • process engineering and metabolic engineering strategies and their use for the construction of synthetic mixed cultures
  • strain construction for mixed cultures and their use in reaction-engineered defined bioprocesses
  • development and application of processes and apparatuses for fermentation technology for mixed cultures
  • development and application of modeling and regulation concepts for mixed cultures
  • development and application of quantitative methods and models for the identification of possible performance losses during scale-up
  • development and application of scale-up strategies to avoid performance losses at production scale
  • development and use of particularly robust host systems for scale-up

The Priority Programme aims to promote the networking of engineers and natural scientists. Therefore, the basic idea is to achieve or continue a strong interaction between engineering and natural sciences on the one hand and the thematic linking of theory and experiment on the other. In particular, cross-group cooperation projects, e.g. between engineers and micro- or molecular biologists, fulfill the basic concept precisely. It is assumed that a maximum of one PhD student per research group may be funded. Applications for individual funding should clearly emphasise the natural and engineering science topics. A one-sided focus on exclusively scientific or engineering issues does not correspond to the concept of the programme.

Applicants are invited to submit full proposals no later than 1 February 2022.

The proposal colloquium is scheduled to take place in April 2022.

The full proposal must be submitted via the DFG’s elan portal – which is available for proposal-related data and secure document transmission. Select “SPP 2170” from the list of calls offered under the heading Priority Programmes. When submitting your proposal, please refer to DFG information 54.01 “Funding Requirements for Proposals” and the instructions in document 50.05, part B “General Information on Proposals” (especially regarding eligibility and requested funds).

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 18 January 2022 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.
If you would like to submit a proposal for a new project within the existing Priority Programme, please go to Proposal Submission – New Project – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2170” from the current list of calls. Previous applicants can submit a proposal for the renewal of an existing project under Proposal Submission – Proposal Overview/Renewal Proposal.

Further Information

Website of the Priority Programme:

DFG elan-Portal:

DFG-Form 50.05 and 54.01:

Questions regarding the scientific objectives of the Priority Programme may be addressed to the coordinator:

  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ralf Takors
    Universität Stuttgart
    Institut für Bioverfahrenstechnik
    Allmandring 31
    70569 Stuttgart
    Tel. +49 711 685-64535

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact: