Associated laboratories

The laboratory for novel bio-based chemicals and polymers

Dr. Lauri Vares, Prof. Patric Jannasch

The lab is working on ways to convert wood biomass into high value chemicals and polymeric materials. The main focus is to offer sustainable solutions to society and chemical industry. The keyword is green chemistry and novel biobased materials to replace the current fossil based ones. For example, we are currently developing novel isosorbide methacrylate based coatings to be used in paints, in abrasive coatings (e.g. sandpaper) and in paper- and cardboard packages. The basis of this approach is highly regioselective biocatalytic derivatization of isosorbide, co-developed with Dr. Omar Parve’s research group (TalTech). Other examples of our recent work include: a) new furanic biofuel (etoxymetylfurfural) directly from saw dust; b) synthesis of value-added chemicals (cyclopentenones) from wood biomass using novel catalytic methods like Piancatelli rearrangement reaction; c) sustainable and efficient strategy to modify isosorbide via hydroformylation, a “green” method which opens up numerous possibilities to prepare novel bio-based polymers. The recently started BioStyrene project explores lignin-based subunits as sustainable replacements for fossil-based styrene.

Laboratory of systems and synthetic biology

Prof. Mart Loog

Among several other research directions, one of the main focuses of the laboratory is to design synthetic signaling circuits based on protein phosphorylation for optimization of the performance and yield of microbial cell factories capable of using lignocellulosic sugars from wood biomass as substrate. By redesigning genomes and cellular metabolism, one can create microbial cells that produce a wide range of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. However, since it is hard to predictably design the living systems, there is a pressing need for programmable synthetic parts and regulatory circuits for cell factory construction. Our discovery of a unique multisite phosphorylation mechanism for cellular signal processing has led us to develop a multisite phosphorylation toolbox for synthetic circuit design (MPToolbox). Using the toolbox, we aim to design regulatorycircuits to balance of biosynthetic pathway enzymes in yeast cell factories with the aim to increase the performance of the strains and mitigate toxic intermediates.

Laboratory of Synthetic Biology and Bioprocess optimization

Dr. Petri-Jaan Lahtvee
ERA Chair in Synthetic Biology

Biosustainability concept, where carbon resources are recycled rather than exploited, represents an important economic driving force in the coming decades. Microbial cell factories that are able to utilize industrial byproducts or low-value sugars and produce a variety of chemicals will play a major role in this process, where yeast is one of the preferred host organism. One promising opportunity is to use sugars and other carbohydrates from hydrolysed biomass to produce biochemicals. The aim of the synthetic biology and bioprocess optimization workgroup is to design and construct novel cell factories with the improved efficiency for the production of variety of biochemicals (biofuels, bioplastic, food additives, pharmaceuticals, etc.). Our work combines experimental and computational analysis. By using novel synthetic biology tools we are going to apply the fundamental knowledge from our research to create more efficient cell factory platform strains.

Laboratory of Gas Fermentation Technologies

Dr. Kaspar Valgepea
ERA Chair in Gas Fermentation technologies

The ERA Chair in Gas Fermentation Technologies (GasFermTEC) was established at the University of Tartu in 2018 with the aim to address global challenges of biosustainability by developing bioprocesses that would realise sustainable production of fuels and chemicals from waste feedstocks (e.g. waste gases, waste biomass, MSW), as opposed to the currently dominating fossil-based industries. For this, GasFermTEC is creating a state-of-the-art lab-scale gas fermentation facility specifically focusing on advancing gas fermentation technologies through its integration with systems and synthetic biology. It is actively engaging with local industries to form a novel form of partnership with academia. These activities will facilitate rationale metabolic engineering of super cell factories for sustainable production of fuels and chemicals from waste, thus contributing both towards global efforts in mitigating climate change and recycling waste.

Chair of Organic Chemistry

Prof. Jaak Järv, Dr. Siim Salmar

Wood processing and lignin valorization methods, originating from the chair of organic chemistry of Tartu University, stem from results of long-standing fundamental studies in synthetic chemistry and physical organic chemistry.  These methods are based on application of environmentally clean technologies, like ultrasound and microwave treatment and effective milling of wood extraction products, and using “green” solvents from renewable sources. The process design is leaded by computational analysis, used for modeling process conditions and the necessary chemical transitions. The main target of this project is lignin valorization, making this massive by–product of wood extraction a valuable source of chemical, biotechnological and pharmaceutical products. Our previous studies were focused on original wood protection technology though chemical modification of its internal structure with preservative natural products, organic silica compounds and antibacterial compounds. These studies were financed by the Estonian Science Foundation, Estonian Investment Agency (EAS) and RaitWood AS.

Laboratory of recalcitrant polysaccharides

Dr. Priit Väljamäe

Structural polysaccharides, cellulose and chitin (collectively referred to as recalcitrant polysaccharides) are the most abundant biopolymers in Nature and have great potential as a renewable energy- and carbon source. These polysaccharides can be valorized to a plethora of different value-added products like fuels, chemicals, and nanomaterials. Enzyme-aided valorization provides an environment friendly and sustainable alternative to the traditional chemical and mechanical processes. The design of cost-efficient enzyme technologies implies detailed knowledge on the enzyme mechanism and kinetics. With more than 20 years of experience in the field, we have established a solid framework for in-depth characterization of enzymes involved in degradation of recalcitrant polysaccharides. Our strength is in application of in-house developed state-of-the-art methods that enable to pinpoint the rate limiting steps in complex heterogeneous enzyme catalysis. Information about these kinetic bottlenecks is used to overcome the substrate recalcitrance by designing novel enzymes and their combinations. 

Research group of microbial genetics

Prof. Maia Kivisaar

Soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida could potentially be used as cell factories in various biotechnological settings because of its good genetic accessibility, metabolic versatility and high tolerance to toxic and harsh conditions met in industrial processes. P. putida has also a great potential in lignin valorization. The research group of Maia Kivisaar has studied molecular mechanisms of bacterial evolution under stressful conditions and physiological adaptation of bacteria to environmental stress by using soil bacterium P. putida as a model organism. The research group has also a long-term experience in characterization of phenolic compounds degradation genes and investigation of regulation of these genes in pseudomonads. The competence of the research group can be used for genetic manipulation of P. putida, monitoring stability and stress levels of engineered strains and further optimization of engineered strains by adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE).