Biofuel study

2 min read

Northumbria University has teamed up with Newcastle-based proteomics software firm, Nonlinear Dynamics, in a three-year project that could lead to a breakthrough in the production of biofuels.

The team at Northumbria hopes to use traditional scientific laboratory analysis techniques alongside Nonlinear Dynamics’ advanced data analysis software in order to study the function of proteins and identify those produced by a cell or organism.

It also hopes that the results could help scientists better understand how micro-organisms release sugars during the production of biofuels.

Northumbria University’s Prof Gary Black, who is leading the research, explained: ‘Proteomics has wide ranging applications for scientific advancement in everything from identifying cancerous cells to the development of the most efficient forms of biofuels.

‘However, one of the drawbacks of proteomics to date has been the issue of accurately reproducing the data in the significant quantity required to have a real impact on its application in areas such as the biofuels industry and the healthcare sector.’

Northumbria University hopes to use traditional scientific laboratory culturing techniques to grow a bacteria commonly found in soil called Cellvibrio japonicus. It will then isolate and analyse the proteins found within the micro-organisms and use Nonlinear Dynamics’ software to determine how easily the results can be reproduced.

According to Prof Black this could have implications for the future production of biofuels, which often require intensive processing methods to release the sugars necessary for the production of the ethanol.

Prof Black said: ‘We will be finding out which proteins a micro-organism uses when it is trying to degrade plants. We know the micro-organisms in the soil have to do this efficiently, or they will die, and we believe we can learn a great deal from nature to determine which proteins are the most efficient and effective in degradation. It is a painstaking process as we have to isolate the proteins and ensure it is not just a spurious event but something that is recurring.’

Paddy Lavery, from Nonlinear Dynamics, who is the industrial supervisor for the research project, said: ‘Biofuel research is an exciting area for us to get involved in. It can bring bright new opportunities for Nonlinear Dynamics and Northumbria University and add to the north east’s growing reputation as a place to deliver excellent science. Ultimately, the work can help make this alternative energy source a real alternative. Quite topical, given what is happening in Copenhagen.’

Technology consultant, RTC North, has helped fund the project by awarding two of its four yearly CASE studentships to Northumbria University. Terry McStea from RTC North said: ‘We are fortunate to be home to one of the world leaders in proteomics in Nonlinear Dynamics and professor Gary Black’s groundbreaking enzyme research makes him ideally placed to lead a project with the potential to tackle and solve a genuine issue for industry. 

‘We believe this project will deliver potential long-term economic benefits for the north east of England and the biofuels industry.’