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“Think big” – Microbial Metabolism in large bioreactors

What happens if microbial cells are transferred from small bioreactors at laboratory scale to large production scale bioreactors of up to several hundred thousand liters ? “Usually nothing beneficial or positive”, says Prof. Dr. Marco Oldiges from Jülich´s Institute of Bio- and Geosciences - IBG-1:Biotechnology. “Loss of performance during scale-up of bioprocesses is very dangerous for the economic situation of a production process and we do not know what is really going on with the cells inside such a large bioreactor.” At laboratory scale environmental conditions can be kept very comfortable for the cell, whereas in large scale conditions they change most of the time. For instance, the cell needs oxygen for breathing activity, but oxygen can become rapidly limiting in large scale bioreactors forcing the cell to keep its breath in the range of seconds to minutes. Such effects can reduce the performance of a process significantly.

Forschungzentrum Jülich´s Institute of Bio- and Geosciences has launched a successful project application entitled “SCILS: Systematic consideration of inhomogeneity at the large scale” to investigate such large scale bioreactor effects on the microbial metabolism. The 2.3 million € project is funded within the ERA-IB network of the EU´s 7th Framework Program.

Together with partners from Spain, United Kingdom, Denmark and Norway the project will focus on investigation of cadaverin production with the microorganism Corynebacterium glutamicum. Cadaverin is a diamine compound perfectly suited for sustainable production of bio-based polymers. Key to success is improved understanding about scale-up related metabolic effects and a perfect example for the translation of fundamental research to industrial application in the bioeconomy field.

Portrait of European SCLIS project partner at the kick-off meeting in AachenEuropean SCLIS project partner at the kick-off meeting in Aachen