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BEEM: Bioproducts and Enzymes from Environmental Metagenomes

Status: 
Past
Competition: 
Competition in Applied Genomics Research in Bioproducts or Crops (ABC)
Sector: 
Environment
Genome Centre(s):
Ontario Genomics
Project Leader(s):
Elizabeth Edwards (University of Toronto), David Major (Geosyntec Consultants (Guelph))
Fiscal Year Project Launched: 
2008-2009
Project Description: 

Today's global economy is based upon the production of fossil fuels. But increasingly, as we grapple with the depth of the environmental footprint that the production and use of those fuels leaves, we are searching for sustainable alternatives. One of the most exciting alternatives involves using plant-based material to produce biofuels.

An economy based on the use of these renewable resources will depend upon products made from agricultural crops, feedstock and waste materials. This bio-economy will revolve around new processes that transform low-cost materials into high-value products, while minimizing the release of carbon dioxide and other contaminants into the environment. Our team of chemical engineers, biologists and policy experts will apply our knowledge of gene sequencing and computer modelling to identify, screen, analyze and clone new proteins. We will determine their potential as catalysts to transform low-value plant residues and waste products into valuable bioproducts. We will screen for communities of microbes that are essential to the fermentation of renewable agricultural or waste materials to convert them into fuel. We will also search for microbial communities that we can use to restore contaminated land and water, by understanding their natural function as one of nature's recyclers to break down the pollution at contaminated sites. We will carefully assess the viability of new biotransformation processes considering economic, policy and regulatory constraints.

We have already worked with pulp and paper mills to develop microbial processes that have reduced the harmful byproducts they produce and generated energy to help power their operations. We have also developed and commercialized a microbial community, called KB- 1®, that is already being used to clean up sites contaminated with solvents. In this project, we plan to apply our basic research knowledge and skills to develop other microbial-based processes to transform, reuse, recycle and remediate contaminants and byproducts from common industrial and agricultural processes. Our goal is to contribute to the sustainability of the biorefineries of the future.

Integrated GE3LS Research: Framing New Bio-technologies to Aid Regulatory Decision-Making
GE3LS Project Leader: Douglas Reeve, University of Toronto

Summary
Our team has had success in the commercialization of a microbial consortium, called KB-1™, which is the only such consortium so far to gain approval through Environment
Canada’s New Substances Notification Regulations. Unfortunately, the development of KB-1™ is a rare example of a successful Canadian bioremediation project. Its development and approval required a decade-long effort, not only of genomics, microbiology and engineering, but also of discussion with government agencies. We will use our experience with KB-1™ as the basis for developing a framework for the integration of scientific research and public policy analysis. Barriers to the entry of new bioproducts to the marketplace often come down to a lack of familiarity by end users, governments and regulators.  

Working with these groups, our aim is to lower barriers to entry by generating a comprehensive plan for introducing new bioproducts. We will integrate scientific, economic and policy data in studies that aim to provide comparisons of new technologies with old to help decision-making by regulators, industrial users, and policy makers. Much of this work will be carried out in collaboration with a new programme in Engineering and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, whose mandate is to promote studies at the intersection of public policy and technology so that sound policy judgments can be made on the basis of well-developed and quantitative science.  

We will approach this study in the following ways. First, we will devise quantitative methods for assessing the environmental and resource impacts of new bioproducts compared to similar, petroleum-derived products. Second, we will use these methods to assess the relative merits of the new biological products and processes developed in this research project. Third, we will model how sustainable bioproducts industries can be maintained by providing quantitative information on environmental-resource impacts and total production costs.