Oxygenating enzymes can be exploited as powerful tools in industrial biotechnology as they can perform reactions with unrivalled specificity and minor environmental impact compared to conventional chemical methods. Currently, this potential is mostly conceptual and much work still has to be done before these enzymes become fully applicable and exploitable. For European research and industry to remain competitive in this area, both scientific knowledge as well as suitable entrepreneurial scientists must be available. Young entrepreneurs with expert multi-disciplinary knowledge, a strong sense of industrial applications and a broad academic and industrial network, are needed. The development of new oxygenating enzymes and processes will significantly contribute to the advance of research in the biocatalysis/biotechnology field, resulting in relevant applications in the food, pharma and chemicals industries. A platform of effective oxidative biocatalysts and related technology will hence foster the establishment of a bio-based economy (beyond this ETN project).
State-of-the-art knowledge on oxygenating enzymes is mostly concentrated in academia, while the drivers and challenges for real applications are essentially located in the private sector. Therefore, in order to reach technological breakthroughs in the areas mentioned above, foster the deployment oxidative biocatalytic processes in the EU industry to increase its competitiveness, and to strongly and strategically improve the employability of young researchers in key sectors, OXYTRAIN will provide a doctoral research and training programme to train 12 highly-skilled researchers with a strong fundamental and applied insight at the interface between the fields of biology and chemistry. This will ultimately, stimulate entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation in Europe.
Each ESR will be enrolled in a doctoral Network programme, including both academic and non-academic settings. By exploiting the unique combination of partners and ESRs, in vital and complementary settings, i.e. moving between research groups, ESRs will be exposed to inter-disciplinary [(bio)chemistry, enzyme engineering, biocatalysis and biotechnology] training. Furthermore, they will transfer cutting-edge knowledge from leading universities and research centres to the private sector and relevant industries and will bring new business and research perspectives from industry to academia. This way, the ESRs will gain strong skills that match the academic and private sector needs, increasing significantly their market value and career perspectives.
Benefits for the ESRs trained within the OXYTRAIN training programme
Besides technical skills, ESRs will also develop personal and professional skills integrated with in-depth training in task-specific skills thus enhancing employability in the industrial and academic sectors, such as:
• Traversing the inter-disciplinary and technological barriers between (bio)chemistry, enzyme engineering, biocatalysis and biotechnology (immediate term)
• Developing and using tools, such as efficient enzyme assays and enzyme screening methods for enzyme engineering research and applying these tools for novel biocatalytic applications (e.g. to for the synthesis of textile dyes) (immediate-short term) and for more efficient biorefineries (e.g. usage of improved lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases to degrade plant biomass in an efficient manner) (long term)
• Gaining complementary skills in business innovation, entrepreneurship and project development and management (immediate to medium term)
• Effective communication with the broader public about the implications of the new technologies (short to medium term)
• Recognising, developing and exploiting the scientific advances from these implementations into new products, solutions and/or services (long term)
Furthermore, OXYTRAIN will bring several advantages beyond the life-time of the project, including:
• Presentations by ESR at workshops and conferences will raise ESR’s profiles by show-casing achievements
• ESRs’ work in the network is likely to have wide dissemination through high-impact publications, which will later assist researchers in seeking individual fellowships and positions for further career development
• Development of friendships and working relationships to create a long term support network of peers
• Mentoring support provided by highly recognised leading male and female researchers will provide ESRs with role models helping them identify a career structure leading to independence
• ESRs’ unusually broad expertise will provide an excellent spring board to become the research leaders of the future
• ESRs’ experience of geographical and sectorial mobility will give them a competitive edge and confidence to start an independent career
Why are the ESRs trained within OXYTRAIN particularly interesting candidates for a later position in academia and/or industry?
All the individual research projects will positively contribute to improve the research skills of the ESRs on the fields of enzymology and biocatalysis. Through OXYTRAIN, ESRs will acquire inter-disciplinary knowledge and competences on highly advanced methodologies that can be exploited in diverse areas of (synthetic) biology, biotechnology and molecular medicine:
• deep knowledge on bioinformatics, molecular biology, enzyme engineering, structural and mechanistic enzyme characterisation, modelling and applied biocatalysis, and bacterial physiology
• obtain state-of-the-art training in enzyme engineering techniques and computational enzyme (re)design
• training in protein expression and production in yeast, in standard protocol development for lab procedures in molecular biology and biotransformation
• training in analytical and physical techniques such as mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography, calorimetry, UV/vis spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy and EPR spectroscopy
Training in state-of-the-art disciplines of OXYTRAIN will equip the ESRs with a broad spectrum of methods which makes them highly attractive for entry positions in industrial biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. The learned strategies and tools acquired will enable the ESRs to transfer research knowledge (oxygenases evolution) to industrial applications (dyeing and biomass degradation processes, commercial metabolite kit) and develop an entrepreneurial mindset to focus on applicable and sellable innovation.