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Information for Researchers No. 48 | 1 July 2019
Priority Programme “Bioelectrochemical and Engineering Fundamentals to Establish Electro-biotechnology for Biosynthesis – Power to Value-added Products (eBiotech)” (SPP 2240)

In February 2019, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Bioelectrochemical and Engineering Fundamentals to Establish Electro-biotechnology for Biosynthesis – Power to Value-added Products (eBiotech)” (SPP 2240). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

Electro-biotechnology for biosynthesis is an emerging field at the interface of electrochemistry and biotechnology. Instead of using carbohydrates as an energy source for biosynthesis as in the classic biotechnology, electro-biotechnology aims to primarily use regenerative electricity to drive biosynthesis and has the potential to overcome inherent major limitations of present bioproduction systems in terms of atom efficiency and product yield. It is especially useful in using low energy-containing wastes or effluents like CO2, providing thus an ideal solution for Power-to-Product and circular economy.

This Priority Programme focuses on fundamentals of electro-biotechnology. Specifically, scientific questions from basic electron transfer mechanisms in bio-electrochemical systems (BES) to fundamental reactor and microorganism design should be studied quantitatively and systematically. For these purposes new and more reliable methods and tools are to be developed for quantitative analysis, modelling and system-level understanding of BES. Based on mechanistic and system-level understanding, design principles should be worked out to develop suitable electrodes and bioreactors and to establish new extracellular electron transfer pathways and electroactive biocatalysts (enzymes and microorganisms) for efficient biosynthesis.

Strategically, the Priority Programme envisages a work programme with the following main topics:

  • electro-active microorganisms and fundamentals of electron transfer and interactions
  • enzyme cascades and electro-enzymatic biosynthesis processes
  • electrode and reactor engineering for efficient bio-electrochemical processes
  • new methods and tools for quantitative analysis and modelling of BES
  • systems biology and metabolic engineering of microorganisms for electro-biosynthesis

In the Priority Programme already known and potentially newly discovered electro-active microorganisms suitable for biosynthesis should be characterised regarding their physiology, mechanisms of electron transfer, interactions with electrode and bioreactor as well as wiring of the metabolism to extracellular electron transfer (EET). Less-well studied but potentially electro-active species of Clostridia, methanogens and acetogens are of particular interest. It is also of interest to discover new electro-autotrophs.

Though the combination of enzymes and electrochemistry is not new, several fundamental challenges especially for a productive synthesis are still unmet. These comprise instabilities and incompatibilities as well as the complexity of the enzyme systems. These questions could be addressed in the Priority Programme. Furthermore, the programme aims also to establish new enzyme cascades and reaction sequences involving electrochemistry. In particular, model systems should be investigated to broaden the scope and applicability of electro-enzymatic cascades.

In order to design and optimise electrodes and corresponding scalable bioreactor systems, the programme focuses especially on the following aspects: 1) investigation of electrode-biocatalysts interactions on a quantitative and mechanistic level;
2) improvement of the electron transfer rate by tailor-made electrodes or use of novel mediators; 3) development and detailed characterisation of novel reactor concepts with high energetic efficiency and suitable for both fundamental study and potential scale-up; 4) design and characterisation of integrated reactors to combine electrochemical and biotechnological steps, ideally in one reactor.

Previous studies of electron transfer and its interactions with electrodes and/or biocatalysts have been primarily qualitative and focused mainly on characterisation of extracellular events. Projects in the programme should move beyond this state-of-art to study more quantitatively and systematically the electron transfer and its interaction with intracellular processes for biosynthesis. For these purposes new, quantitative and non-invasive methods and tools are to be developed or adapted. It is emphasised that this topic is a cross-section one and should be studied with concrete scientific questions derived from the other topics. An interdisciplinary collaboration in tandem projects is particularly encouraged.

Metabolic engineering and synthetic biology with their purposeful manipulation or even creation of new metabolic pathways and regulation circuits have shown their great impacts on engineering microorganisms for electro-biotechnology. Systems biology with its major omics tools of genome-level analysis and modelling can be principally very useful for fundamental studies of microorganisms in BES. In the Priority Programme systems biology studies of known and potentially new electro-active and robust production microorganisms should be carried out. They should guide metabolic engineering and synthetic biology work to enable heterotrophic microorganisms accessible for bio-electrochemical synthesis of selected products.

The Priority Programme emphasises collaborations between groups of natural science and engineering across locations. They are encouraged to jointly explore the topics and central scientific questions mentioned above.

Topics not considered in the Priority Programme include:

  • microbial and enzymatic fuel cells
  • electro-biotechnological wastewater treatment and bioremediation
  • optimisation of biofilm reactors without fundamental understanding of the underlying electron transfer processes or interactions of electrons-electrode-microbes
  • biocomputing and biosensors

The Priority Programme comprises two funding phases, each lasting three years. In the first funding period the programme will focus on quantitative and mechanistic studies of underlying processes in BES for enzymatic and microbial biosynthesis and the corresponding development of the necessary methods, tools, suitable electrodes and reactors as mentioned above. In the second funding period work will be focused on systems-level understanding and mathematical modelling of the whole biosynthetic processes (including integrated or secondary BES) for model-based design and optimisation, especially for systems metabolic engineering of new and efficient electroactive biocatalysts and demonstration of their application feasibility.

Proposals must be written in English. Potential applicants are asked to first submit a proposal outline (max. 2 pages, pdf-Format, including a short proposal description, info about the applicants and a rough estimation of funding to be applied) by 30 September 2019 to the coordinator. In case of a large number of potential applications DFG may make a selection of applications for full proposals under considerations of recommendations from reviewers. The full proposals should be submitted to the DFG by 18 December 2019. The project evaluation meeting is scheduled for end of March 2020.

Please note that full proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the existing Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2240” from the current list of calls.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator.

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 1 December 2019 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.

Further Information

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Prof. Dr. An-Ping Zeng,
    Technische Universität Hamburg,
    Institut für Bioprozess- und Biosystemtechnik,
    Denickestr. 15, 21073 Hamburg,
    phone +49 40 42878-4183,
    Link auf E-Mailaze@tu-harburg.de

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact:

Note:

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