[Translate to English:] (c) DBT

Yeast instead of crude oil - on the way to renewable plastics

Researchers at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna and the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) have found a way to use an optimized yeast to use the harmful greenhouse gas CO2 as a raw material for the production of industrial products such as bioplastics, absorbents or important chemicals, thus binding it into durable materials. The technology, which is still on a laboratory scale, is not only climate-neutral, but in the future - so the goal - could make an effective contribution to the fight against climate change.

Carbon is the basic building block of life on our planet. We consume it as food in the form of carbohydrates, for example, consume fossil fuels and produce many everyday materials, such as plastics, from carbon. Despite its many benefits, carbon's extensive use since the Industrial Revolution is fueling one of the biggest problems of the Anthropocene - climate change.

On the one hand, man-made increases in CO2 emissions are considered the biggest driver of global warming. On the other hand, fossil resources, which are harmful to the climate and the environment, are running out. Therefore, in response to the ongoing climate change and the increasing need for renewable resources, which are independent of agricultural raw materials, the recycling of CO2 as a feedstock is becoming more and more interesting. 

Plastics and chemicals from CO2

One of the greatest hopes for the future in the development of CO2-neutral or even CO2-negative industrial processes is modern industrial biotechnology. A few years ago, a research group led by Diethard Mattanovich, senior researcher at the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) and professor at the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, and a CO2-producing heterotrophic yeast called Komagataella phaffii, was able to modify the yeast to build its biomass entirely from CO2. "Now we have taken another significant step forward: We were able to produce starting materials for industrial products such as bioplastics, polymers or absorbents from CO2 by introducing additional genes from lactic acid bacteria and molds into the modified yeast", explains Diethard Mattanovich. This groundbreaking work was recently published in the scientific journal "The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)".

First successes on a laboratory scale

By applying synthetic biology methods, the metabolic pathways for the production of itaconic acid and lactic acid could be introduced into the modified yeast K. phaffii and both products could be produced from CO2. Using 13C isotope labeling, the researchers were also able to demonstrate that the desired products were produced exclusively from CO2. With a yield of nearly 2 grams of itaconic acid per liter, initial successes have already been celebrated. "Until we reach industrial maturity, we need to further optimize the strains and processes," Mattanovich says. "On a laboratory scale, however, we have already been able to show that greenhouse gases can indeed be used as a raw material for important chemicals," says Özge Ata, Senior Scientist at acib and researcher at BOKU, summarizing the enormous potential of this work.

Instead of continuing to use petroleum as a raw material and thus releasing greenhouse gases, the new technology can bind carbon dioxide into durable materials. Such a "carbon capture and utilization" technology would therefore not only be climate neutral, but actually make an effective contribution to combating climate change.

As part of acib's focus on harnessing CO2 as a resource, the Lighthouse project was funded by acib and supported by the EU project VIVALDI at BOKU.

To the publication:  https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2211827119 

About the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna

The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna is one of the leading life sciences universities in Europe with about 2,200 scientists and 11,000 students. Thanks to the combination of natural sciences, technology, and social and economic sciences, research and teaching are characterized by a holistic approach to problems. Sustainability, climate impacts, resource scarcity, environmental protection, food and health security: the challenges and problems of our time are interconnected in many ways and can only be solved in an inter- and transdisciplinary manner. BOKU maintains 18 agreements in the form of network memberships and around 360 multi- and bilateral partnerships with universities and research institutions worldwide and is part of the European University EPICUR. www.boku.ac.at 

About acib GmbH

Founded in 2010, the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) develops new, more environmentally friendly and economical processes for the biotech, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, using nature's methods as a model. The acib, a non-profit organization, is an international research center for industrial biotechnology with worldwide locations and headquarters in Graz. acib sees itself as a partnership of 150+ universities and companies. Owners of acib are the University of Innsbruck and University of Graz, Graz University of Technology, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna and Joanneum Research. The K2 center is funded within the COMET program by the BMK, BMDW as well as the federal states of Styria, Vienna, Lower Austria and Tyrol. The COMET program is managed by the FFG. www.acib.at 

For further information please contact

Univ.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.nat.techn. Diethard Mattanovich
Senior Researcher Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib)
Head of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences BOKU Vienna
E-mail: diethard.mattanovich@boku.ac.at
Phone: +43 1 47654-79001

Press contact

Martin Walpot, MA
Head of Public Relations and Marketing acib GmbH
Phone: +43 316 873 9312
E-Mail: martin.walpot@acib.at

Mag.a Astrid Kleber-Klinger
Head of Public Relations BOKU Vienna
Phone: +43 664 885 86 533
E-mail: astrid.kleber@boku.ac.at