Engineering Anaerobic Consortia for Sustainable Chemical Production

Program Period: 
6/1/14 - 11/30/16

Establish a new scientific field and center based on fungi/microbe pairings that increase the efficiency of both the processing of biomass and production of biogas.

In the face of depleting oil reserves, society races to identify alternate routes to produce chemicals sustainably. Methane-rich synthesis gas (bio/syngas) is an appealing target as it can serve as feedstock for an array of bio-based products, ranging from energy-dense fuels to specialty monomers. Biogas is a natural end-product of fermentation by anaerobic microbes, working in complex consortia to decompose and recycle carbon throughout the Earth. Although primitive bioreactors have been created to capture biogas from anaerobic digestion of food and farm wastes, they often fail due to death of the undefined culture, leading to unpredictability of fermentation byproducts. Such failure stems from a fundamental lack of understanding of the interactions among different members of microbial communities, such as the specific metabolic processes and consortia members that drive product-formation. The work starts by The work starts by isolating fungus/microbe pairs, then monitoring how they degrade biomass. Longer term, the goal is to understand how to enhance and combine individual fungi or archaea to maximize the efficiency of the pairing.

Programmatically, the team aims to nucleate a new scientific center focused on engineering anaerobic microbes for targeted biomass breakdown and biogas production, kicking off with a CNSI-hosted symposium in the Summer/Fall of 2015.