A research collaboration is developing climate-neutral production with the help of bacteria from the bovine rumen – the BMBF is funding the project with 2.6 million euros.

In order to mitigate the climate catastrophe, research is intensifying its efforts to replace industrial production processes based on the consumption of fossil raw materials such as crude oil with climate-neutral alternatives. This is achieved, for example, through fermentations in which bacteria use plant-based sugars and carbon dioxide to produce higher-value chemical substances in the bioreactor. In the FUMBIO project, researchers from the Center for Synthetic Microbiology(SYNMIKRO) at the University of Marburg, colleagues from the universities in Saarbrücken and Kaiserslautern-Landau and the coordinating partner BASF want to develop such a sustainable production process.

Producing chemical raw materials using biocatalysis

FUMBIO stands for “FUMaric acid BIObased” and describes the biocatalytic process by which the bacterium Basfia succiniciproducens produces the chemical intermediate fumaric acid from renewable sugars and carbon dioxide from industrial waste gas streams. Fumaric acid is a platform chemical that is used by the ton in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. From the researchers’ point of view, this is doubly sustainable and climate-friendly: CO2 is removed from the environment and there is no need for crude oil as a starting chemical. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the research consortium with a total of 2.6 million euros in the period from 2024 to 2026 as part of its “Climate-neutral products through biotechnology” program.

FUMBIO project

“This is pioneering research in which universities and industry are working together to develop CO2-neutral production processes. FUMBIO is a prime example of climate-relevant research in our focus area ‘Microbes-for-climate’ (M4C),” says Prof. Dr. Thomas Nauss, President of Philipps-Universität Marburg. The FUMBIO project aims to develop the entire economic value chain from sustainable starting materials to the intermediate product fumaric acid and biocatalytic conversion into biobased end products. The aim is to manufacture products with a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to conventional petrochemical production – perhaps even a negative one thanks to the use of CO2 from waste gas streams. Accompanying life cycle analyses should examine and evaluate the environmental compatibility of the process steps.

Bacterium originates from cow stomachs

The bacterium Basfia succiniciproducens, which was originally isolated from the rumen of cows, is already being used in other industrial fermentation processes. The researchers from Prof. Dr. Anke Becker’s SYNMIKRO team at the University of Marburg now want to investigate how the bacterium’s metabolism can be modified in such a way that it produces as much furmaric acid as possible. “We use methods of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology to reprogram the bacterium so that it produces fumaric acid,” explains Dr. Tamara Hoffmann from the research group.

Colleagues from Saarbrücken then analyze the bacterial strains and their metabolism. The industrial company BASF from Ludwigshafen is looking at biotechnological fermentation and, together with the researchers from Kaiserslautern, is developing the further processing of fumaric acid into climate-friendly products. Through cooperation between industry and university research, the BMBF expects rapid and consistent development, further innovations and competitive technologies.

Picture above: Biologist Anke Becker heads the Marburg Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO) Photo: Rolf K. Wegst Biologist Anke Becker heads the Marburg Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO). Photo: Rolf K. Wegst

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