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EMSL User Awarded DOE Funding for Innovations in Technology Project

Research Focuses on Microbial Behavior in Biomanufacturing

Genoa Blankenship |
bacteria and mold

Davinia Salvachúa is leading the multi-institutional team on this project, which will develop experimental and computational tools to gather fundamental knowledge and predict behavior in microbes. (Image by iStock | Sinhyu)

Davinia Salvachua
Davinia Salvachúa

Davinia Salvachúa, a microbiologist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is among the 11 recipients of $73 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding for research projects that accelerate innovations in emerging technology. She will be the principal investigator of the project, “Real-time sensing and adaptive computing to elucidate microenvironment-induced cell heterogeneities and accelerate scalable bioprocesses,” and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) researcher Alex Beliaev, the leader of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory’s (EMSL’s) Cell Signaling and Communications Integrated Research Platform, will be a co-lead of this multidisciplinary and multi-institutional project. Salvachúa is also a user of EMSL, a DOE user facility located at PNNL, and is a member of EMSL’s Science and Technology Advisory Committee.

In this project, Salvachúa, Beliaev, and multiple researchers from NREL, PNNL, the University of California Davis, University of California San Diego, and University of Puerto Rico will develop experimental and computational tools to gather fundamental knowledge and predict behavior in microbes. Their research aims to understand and mitigate why biomanufacturing processes are successful in laboratories but not at the industrial scale needed for mass production.

“Unless the capability to predict microbial performance in industrial-scale bioreactors can be realized, many bioconversion pathways will not come to fruition in the bioeconomy,” said Salvachúa.

The research team intends to shorten the time and reduce costs for scaling new fermentation technologies and subsequently advancing innovation in the bioeconomy. This research also addresses microbial-level conversion issues that apply to other biological research focused on predictive understanding of multi-cellular behavior.

The project leverages NREL’s expertise in metabolic engineering, fermentation science, systems biology, computational biology, and artificial intelligence. PNNL’s capabilities in high-resolution omics, including single-cell transcriptomics, proteomics, activity-based probing, and cell separation, will be used to quantitatively characterize the biological heterogeneities in microbial populations and apply molecular-level data to predict outcomes of industrial fermentation processes.

“I am excited to use our expertise in single-cell analyses to tackle this important biotechnology challenge. Understanding the behaviors of microbes with single-cell resolution and how they relate to their microenvironment is critical to the development of bioprocesses that will be the cornerstone of a robust U.S. bioeconomy,” said Beliaev.

Researchers from the University of Puerto, University of California San Diego, and University of California Davis will contribute their expertise in genome-scale modeling, automated high-throughput DNA sequencing, downstream analyses, and development of genetic tools in non-model organisms.

Read more about DOE’s funding announcement and awarded projects.