Research into industrial enzymes, replacement of plant toxins and degradation of plastics

Grants for projects to reduce plastic and pesticides

Tuesday 20 Apr 21


Steffen Ernst
Guest Project leader
DTU Bioengineering


Uffe Hasbro Mortensen
DTU Bioengineering
+45 45 25 27 01


Peter Westh
DTU Bioengineering
+45 45 25 26 41
Innovation Fund Denmark supports research into sustainable solutions to replace pesticides, break down plastic and accelerate bioproduction of chemicals, medicines and enzymes.

Three research projects at DTU have been awarded a total of DKK 50 million from Innovation Fund Denmark. These are so-called Grand Solution projects aimed at creating sustainable solutions within biotech, biological plant protection in agriculture and biodegradation of plastics.

Biological plant protection

The largest grant of DKK 26 million goes to the project Smarter AgroBiological Screening (SABS). The project is managed by Steffen Ernst from DTU Bioengineering, and aims to improve the efficiency of technologies for detecting biofungicides, natural microorganisms that can protect plants from fungal diseases.

SABS will develop a new paradigm for screening large collections of microorganisms by combining automated tests and characterization methods with lab-based evolutionary technology and artificial intelligence to find the best organisms. These organisms can then either become a product themselves or make molecules that can be formulated into the final biofungicide product.

The project is a collaboration between DTU Bioengineering and the plant protection company FMC. DTU contributes expertise in microbiology, genomics, metabolomics, automation and AI, while FMC’s Danish innovation centre contributes knowledge of protection against plant diseases, testing in greenhouses and fields, and experience with scaling up and formulating biological plant protection products.

The biofungicides identified and processed in the project will be fully developed and marketed by FMC, which expects the products to be effective against fungal diseases in wheat, and thereby reduce the use of chemical anti-fungal pesticides. The BioSmart Screening Platform developed in the project will be made available to other companies to allow them to find valuable microorganisms for use in other industries after the project is completed.

3D gene lab

In the green transition, it is necessary to expand the production repertoire of chemicals, industrial enzymes and therapeutic proteins that can be made in microbial production organisms, so-called cell factories. The Harmonize project, for which Professor Uffe Hasbro Mortensen from DTU Bioengineering has received DKK 11 million from Innovation Fund Denmark, focuses on shortening the development time of new cell factories.

The idea of the project is to find the best possible starting point for new processes. To do so, Harmonize will establish a three-dimensional biological production space where the new genes and biosynthesis pathways can be inserted and tested. In this way, a very large number of different proto-cell factories can be screened at the beginning of a new production project, and the most efficient cell factory can be selected for development using high-throughput methods.

The Harmonize project will be carried out in collaboration with the companies River Stone, Novozymes and Novo Nordisk. The project builds on the results of a previous Grand Solution project, Diversify, in which the same research team gained experience with developing an effective new gene technology that makes it possible to implement processes in many different species simultaneously. Diversify thus delivers the necessary R&D for one dimension of the new Harmonize project.

Enzymes break down plastic

The third grant of DKK 9.3 million goes to the project Endewa and Professor Peter Westh from DTU Bioengineering, who together with Novozymes applied for a grant from Innovation Fund Denmark to identify enzymes that can effectively break down polyester or other types of plastic. Since plastics are insoluble, enzymes can only attack on the surface, and the process is therefore generally slow. Peter Westh’s research is therefore focused on optimizing industrial enzymes to make them faster and more stable, so each enzyme can cut up as much plastic as possible before the enzyme itself degrades. If enzymatic degradation of plastics is to become good business, it is essential that the conversion is quick and the process is stable.

Since the mass production of plastics took off in the 1950s, only 9 per cent has been recycled, 12 per cent has been incinerated, and as much as 79 per cent has either been accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. If the current trends continue, it is estimated that roughly 12,000 million tonnes of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050.

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