Bioprocesses and Bioprospecting
IBUN’s Bioprocesses and Bioprospecting group (created in 1995) seeks to consolidate research and technological development; the thread running through its programmes stresses know-how and growth as human beings. The formation of committed integral, ethical researchers, having social awareness, lies in understanding the investigators and collectives’ singularity. The results and broadcasting them form only one part of our ongoing research; the other, and perhaps the most important one, is the ongoing analysis of the necessary processes for consolidating disciplinary and interdisciplinary groups through self-evaluation thereby leading to continuous improvement and innovation.
We train high-level human talent, produce know-how/knowledge in research, technological development and technology negotiation for being projected towards the production sector. Such effort has involved strengthening a clear technology transfer policy, including intellectual property standards, negotiation and helping state organisms fix policy in this area. The group has four research lines: biopolymers, solventogenic microorganisms, biofertilisers and natural rubber.
We are prospecting biodiversity for enzyme-, solvent- and biopolymer-producing microorganisms, selecting those which have promising activity, biochemically and molecularly characterising them and establishing their mass growth conditions in the laboratory. We carry out physiological analysis of the microorganisms, technological monitoring and economic prefeasibility studies.
We look for bottle-necks in metabolic regulation studies regarding different nutritional sources, fermentation conditions and separation or improvement processes. When we detect products having commercial interest we usually seek rapprochement with potential users of such technology for developing the prototype. Developing products produced from the group’s interdisciplinary research has forced us to establish criteria for win-win negotiation with companies, the most outstanding ones being: regulating university–business working-committees for joint work and agreements about patents and exploiting developments as basic elements for initiating designing, constructing and bringing different prototypes on-line. It is worth mentioning that the frameworks for negotiation have been very versatile, as each case must be treated in different ways.
The following stage (going from prototype level to industrial plant) presents technical difficulties due to a lack of experience in scaling-up biotechnological processes, economic ones due to a lack of risk capital, “reverse angels” or promotional funds and political ones as a consequence of legislation regarding access to genetic resources, related royalties, institutions’ precarious regulations for encouraging researchers’ participation in the benefits produced by technological developments, and little recognition by the National Science and Technology System for the R+D+I groups’ qualification scale.
Products currently passing from laboratory to industrial level
We have established agreements with Procaps SA for developing a pilot prototype for a microbial biopolymer. We select microorganisms producing the enzyme which catalyses the polymerisation of glucose and fructose units from sugarcane; we characterise the enzyme and sequence the gene. This biopolymer is a new molecule and the process, the product and some uses are currently being patented. This enzyme technology line is directed by Sonia Ospina (enzyme technology laboratory coordinator) and Gustavo Buitrago (who has directed negotiation with Procaps SA and the joint design, construction and bringing on line of the pilot plant or prototype for producing the biopolymer). During the last two years our research line has been evaluating the biopolymer’s use in producing capsules for pharmaceutical and cosmetic use. As soluble fibre, the biopolymer’s effect has been studied regarding its physiological and biochemical properties on an animal model and in in vitro assays. Its prebiotic effect has been studied by evaluating the polymer’s use by different probiotic microorganisms. Our development was awarded third place out of 1,750 projects (even before its applications were known) in the Ventures 2000 competition for entrepreneurs, organised by Dinero magazine and risk capital investors.
We have developed four new agricultural products in association with Biocultivos S. A. which have been registered with ICA and permission has been granted for selling them. These four agricultural consumer products have been developed at pilot level (1,000 litres); this includes selecting microorganisms, production, validation assays in the field, formulation and packaging.
The products have been tested on 70,000 hectares of rice and cotton, two important lines in Colombia’s agricultural economy. Efficiency assays have shown that using our products on rice crops has reduced the nitrogen and phosphorous dose from inorganic sources by 35%, accompanied by a consequent reduction of costs, improving the crop’s profitability. An industrial plant is being designed, based on the parameters defined at pilot level.
IBUN’s Biofertilisers and Controllers group is the national representative for the Biological Fertilisers for Agriculture and the Environment network (Fertilizantes Biologicos para la Agricultura y el Medio Ambiente – BIOFAG). This forms part of the Latin-American Science and technology programme (CYTED) formed by twelve Latin-American countries and fifty-three research groups. Dr Juan Sanjuan Pinilla is responsible for its general coordination (2008-2011); the network’s general objective lies in promoting research and developing and applying maximum-quality biological fertilisers in Latin-American agriculture.
This line is directed by Nubia Moreno who designed and brought the biofertiliser pilot plant on line, supported by Dr Dolly Montoya and the initial participation of Hernando Valencia and Jimena Sánchez from the Biology Department.
Mavalle S. A., in agreement with IBUN and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, carries out public domain projects for designing and activating a pilot plant for crepe rubber production, installing a laboratory for latex analysis and designing tapping protocols. The research line is coordinated by Fabio Aristizabel, Dolly Montoya and Marina Caro (teachers from the Agronomy department and students from different areas of knowledge acting as co-researchers). At laboratory level, research seeks to guarantee the healthiness and characteristics of the vegetal material which will be sown in the field, using molecular methods for identifying commercial rubber clones, Microcyclus ulei (the fungi causing South-American leaf blight) and the search for genes resistant to this pathogen in the plant. Cooperation with the SINCHI institute, CORPOICA and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is aimed at in vitro propagation of vegetal material and the molecular characterisation of Microcyclus ulei.
Nuestros bioinsumos agrícolas
TRIFESOL Biopesticide. Patent: n. ICA 4748, TRIFESOL. 20th August 2002 (deposited); 20th September 2002 (examined); 20th March 2003 (concession granted).
DIMARGON Biofertiliser. Patent: n. ICA1187, biofertiliser product registered. 6th February 2002 (deposited); 6th April 2002 (examined); 30th May 2002 (concession granted).
DIMAZOS Biofertiliser. Patent: n. ICA1187, product registered. 6th February 2002 (deposited); 6th April 2002 (examined); 30th May 2002 (concession granted).
FOSFOSOL Biofertiliser. Patent: n. ICA1187, product registered. 6th February 2002 (deposited); 6th April 2002 (examined); 30th May 2002 (concession granted).
Potential products for establishing a university – business agreement
Producing polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHAs) biopolymers The line has developed a PHA-producing microorganism strain-bank, diagnosed with molecular tools for selecting medium- and short-chain PHA-producing microorganisms. We channel our efforts into optimising the production, characterisation and separation of the biocompatible biopolymer and allowing the growth of tissue cells on them. We have made advances in developing batch cultures and Pseudomonas putida-fed batches. The best polymer film results were produced by the polymer produced with Ralstonia eutropha, leading to 50% biomass yield. Even though production costs are still high, they could be assimilated by a biomedical application. We have established a strategic alliance with IBUN’s interdisciplinary biomimetics’ group (formed by teachers from the Dentistry and Medicine faculties) aimed at producing a matrix for cellular growth, from polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) produced from the microorganism fermentation which is being done at IBUN and using processing techniques allowing a highly porous material to be obtained.
Work on producing PHAs was began in 1997 by Armando Espinosa from the Universidad Nacional’s Engineering Faculty and led in IBUN by Nubia Moreno. The project was awarded second place by the Colombian Professional Chemical Engineering Council. It is hoped to transfer the technology so developed to the production sector.
• Producing 1,3-propanediol (1,3-Propanodiol) from glycerol, this being a sub-product of biodiesel production. 1,3 propanediol (1,3 PD) is one of the oldest products; however, during the last few years its production by microbiological route has taken on special relevance given that this is considered to be a bioclean and profitable alternative for obtaining it, followed by producing high added-value polycondensed polymers. It has been proposed that producing 1,3-PD in fermentation should be studied using native Clostridium sp. strains from isolates which have been previously characterised at molecular level. Genes responsible for producing1,3-PD will be identified in a native Clostridium sp. strain by using a strategy involving the amplification and sequencing of specific regions associated with producing diols in taxonomically-related species.
1,3 propanediol production is being improved by using different strategies such as optimising the culture medium and the fermentation, as well as the genetic improvement of native strains. We are scaling-up to pilot plant level. Dr Dolly Montoya has been responsible for the solventogenic microorganism research line.
BIOFERTILISER RESEARCH LINES
Nubia Moreno Sarmiento MSc. cPhD..
Dolly Montoya Castaño MSc. PhD.
Armando Espinosa Hernández MSc.
Sonia Amparo Ospina Sánchez MSc.PhD.
Gustavo Buitrago Hurtado MSc. cPhD.
Fabio Ancízar Aristizábal PhD.
Dolly Montoya Castaño MSc. PhD.
Dolly Montoya Castaño MSc. PhD.
Profesora Dolly Montoya Castaño
Ciudad Universitaria - Carrera 30 No. 45-03
IBUN - Instituto de Biotecnología, Bogotá D. C., Colombia
Teléfono: (57-1) 3165000 Ext. 16951
Correo electrónico: dmontoyac @unal.edu.co