The demand for made-to-measure analytical methods is increasing as interest in the biological production of materials and pharmaceuticals increases. It is extremely important economically for bioindustry to know the production time and quantity of products that result from specific fermentation conditions. Inspired by natural molecular processes, researchers from Tübingen and Stuttgart are working on new, label-free analytical methods that make it possible to monitor the entire process.
Biotechnology plays an increasing role in industrial production. Fine chemicals as well as active pharmaceutical ingredients are produced in large bioreactors, known as fermenters, using unicellular organisms. The growing economic success of biological production has given rise to larger production facilities with increasingly complex process management. Physical parameters such as temperature and pressure, the addition of nutrients and the separation and purification of products needs to be optimised. This is why the entire fermentation process needs to be backed up by sophisticated process analytics. The control of fermentation can be improved by molecular bionics, which is a topic being dealt with by a team at the Tübingen-based Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry led by Prof. Dr. Günter Gauglitz. The Tübingen team works closely with a team of researchers led by PD Dr. Günter Tovar from the Institute for Interfacial Engineering, IGVT, at the University of Stuttgart.“At present, the progress of fermentation is almost exclusively determined from the pH value and from CO2 concentrations, occasionally also from the concentration of glucose. The fermentation products cannot be directly measured online during the fermentation process, which takes usually several days, by removing and subsequently analysing the samples,” said Gauglitz explaining the current situation, which he hopes to change. He hopes to be able to determine in a timely manner how the product develops in the fermenters, the point at which a maximum product yield is achieved, the point at which the added substances have been metabolised and when it is best to terminate the production process.
Since the project is still at an early stage, the researchers need to overcome numerous hurdles. “It is worth noting that such an analysis system is not as simple as a Lamda sensor used in cars. The method needs to be adapted to the fermenter fluidics,” said Gauglitz highlighting the need to precisely control the selectivity and the reversibility of the polymers. In addition, the researchers need to define the response time of the polymers. Gauglitz believes that the entire process, starting with the binding of the analyte and ending with the measurements, will take no more than five to ten minutes in future. The project will initially be funded for one year through the Baden-Württemberg “Molecular Bionics” programme. Gauglitz hopes that this will give the teams enough time to take the project as far as being able to file an application for a grant with a longer duration. “At the moment this is still a vision of the future; our fundamental goal is to carry out a feasibility study,” said Gauglitz. However, all scientific caution aside, Gauglitz already foresees that the method has the potential to be used in the emerging field of bioindustry and is interested in making contact with potential industrial partners.
Further information:University of TübingenInstitute of Physical and Theoretical ChemistryProf. Dr. Günter GauglitzAuf der Morgenstelle 1872076 TübingenTel.: +49 (0)7071 29-76927E-mail: guenter.gauglitz(at)ipc.uni-tuebingen.de