New cell factories to ensure Denmark leading position in bioproduct production

Tuesday 02 May 17


Uffe Hasbro Mortensen
DTU Bioengineering
+4545 25 27 01

Cell factory

A cell factory is a microorganism which, through gene technology, has been converted to produce a substance that it would not produce naturally—for example insulin or vanillin. The process is very time consuming and expensive, and only a few well-tested microorganisms are therefore used for cell factory construction.
50,000 Danish jobs in the fermentation sector can become many more when a new project revolutionizes the construction of cell factories—potentially increasing Denmark’s bioproduct production significantly.

Denmark has a long tradition of using genetically modified fungi in cell factories to produce bioproducts. For example, insulin is extracted from yeast and industrial enzymes from mould fungi—both products that contribute significantly to the Danish economy. There is thus great opportunities if the good production properties in fungi can be utilized for the manufacture of other valuable products for use in the biotech, pharmaceutical, and food processing industries. The establishment of new cell factories is often time consuming and resource intensive, and most cell factories are therefore established in a small number of well-characterized fungal species, where time and resources are used on production optimization.

Researchers at DTU Bioengineering will introduce a paradigm shift in the construction of cell factories in a joint project with Evolva, Novo Nordisk, and Novozymes. The project DIVERSIFY—A biodiversity-based strategy for cell factory construction will make it possible to test whether a new microorganism will be well suited for producing a given product. This will enable a switch from merely optimizing the same few microorganisms again and again to an exploitation of the potential inherent in the large genetic variation in the ‘fungal kingdom’. Professor Uffe Hasbro Mortensen, who is behind the project, elaborates:

“Our hypothesis is that cell factories can, to advantage, be created by hosts whose physiology is naturally geared to produce the product. We will therefore create a unique fungal platform on which you can quickly create a cell factory and test the best production host for the desired product.”

"We will create a unique fungal platform on which you can quickly create a cell factory and test the best production host for the desired product."
Professor Uffe Hasbro Mortensen, DTU Bioengineering

The method will shorten the production lead time and reduce costs markedly, thus radically increasing the likelihood of a new cell factory reaching the market. This approach will ensure Denmark's leading position in microbial production of biological products.

Senior Director at Novozymes Carsten Hjort says:

“We are currently seeing a dramatic transformation in biotechnology, where new methods and technology may make possible profitable production of bioproducts which can today only be made in small quantities. It is essential for Novozymes to be right at the forefront of the leading companies in this field. We can only achieve this by collaborating with competent partners from universities and industry. The DIVERSIFY project provides an optimal framework for this partnership.”

The project focuses on yeast and fungi, but it can subsequently be extended to include bacteria and plants. This makes it possible to scale the method to other industries in the future, and the project thus has the potential to boost Denmark’s bioeconomy further.

Innovation Fund Denmark is investing DKK 12.7 million (EUR 1.7 million) in the project which totals DKK 31.6 million (EUR 4.2 million) and runs over four years.

This is a joint project between DTU Bioengineering, Evolva, Novozymes, and Novo Nordisk.

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