Cell Biology renders Biotech more efficient

The microalga Chlorella is booming as superfood. Packed with proteins and vitamines it is, besides the „blue alga“ Spirulina (actually a photosynthetic bacterium) a valuable functional food. But how to get the proteins out of the alga? So far by High Pressure Extraction. This does not only require a lot of energy, but the valuable proteins need to be separated from other cell components afterwards. At the Institute for High Impulse and Microwave Technology (IHM) at the Campus Nord a procedure has been developed that works with very strong electrical impulses, which allows to produce the protein in pure form. But again, a lot of energy is needed. During her PhD, which was part of a cooperation between IHM and Botany, Damaris Krust has developed an energy-saving alternative. Interestingly, this started as pure science, but then led to unexpected applications. We had observed that this unicellular organism dies, if treated with the supernatant from electrically challenged sister algae. This releases the protein as efficient, as if the algal cell itself had been electrocuted. Thus, there is a mysterious death factor that is released by the electrical impulse. Damaris Krust has now mapped the conditions, under which this death factor is formed, in great detail and was able to generate biotechnological benefit from this. The energy load can be reduced by a factor of more than 100 and this renderst he electrical extraction of proteins more efficient. The Chlorella Smoothie in the supermarket turns by this not only into a superfood but becomes also super-economic. Of course, we have asked ourselves, why Nature has developed such a death factor. The key is found in the life cycle of this alga – it divides into packages of four daughter cells that are enclosed in the maternal cell wall. This cell wall contains, what is unusual for algae, chitin, and must dissolve in order to release the daughter cells. The death factor is rather a birth factor, therefore – the electrical impulse induces a precocious release of this factor which induces the cells to dissolve their cell walls. sondern eine spannende Publikation (Krust et al. 2022) veröffentlicht und am Ende noch den Energiecampus-Preis der Stiftung Energie und Klimaschutz (mehr...) eingeheimst. Damaris Krust has not only successfully defended her PhD with this story, but also published an exciting publication (Krust et al. 2022) and also got the Energy Campus Award by the Foundation Energy and Climate Protection(more...). Review publication on the project.

Ingrediente anti-microtubular de una planta de Medicina Tradicional China

The Dyer's Woad, also known as German Indigo, is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine under the name of Ban Lan Gen genutzt. Currently, the plant is in the limelight, due to its effect against Covid symptoms. In a cooperation with chemists from Switzerland we succeeded to identify the active compound as glucobrassicine that disassembles microtubules in plant and animal cells. Since the Covid virus hijacks the microtubules of the host for its own movement, this might be the reason for the therapeutic effect of Ban Lan Gen . The work is now accepted in the Journal for Integrative Plant Biology and will be even highlighted on the front page. more...

Bio-Economía de Fosforo

What was the question behind this work? Bio-Economy works for circuits that are sustainable. We are still far from that, not only in industry, but also in agriculture. We use mineral fertilisers. Nitrate is generated from atmospheric nitrogen through the energy intensive Haber-Bosch Process, phosphorous minerals are extracted from mines that will be exploited in a few decades from now and often are located in politically problematic countries such as Syria or Saudi Arabia, countries, on which one should not depend on.

How did we approach the question? After our colleague Dr. Adnan Kanbar succeeded to breed in the Botanical Garden of the KIT a new variety of sorghum that thrives under our climatic conditions and is suitable for the production of bioethanol for its high sugar content (press release of the KIT), we work now for closing the circle. A joint project funded by the Division I with Prof. Stapf (Institute for Technical Chemistry, Campus North) showed that Sorghum bicolor can form, under starvation as it is typical for marginal lands, a larger root system. Moreover, it activates genes for phosphate transporters such that it accumulates phosphorous and silicate from the soil. When the residues from sugar extraction are pyrolysed at relatively low temperatures, mineralic phosphate fertilisers can be replaced. This work appeared now in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. more...

Publication 170. Kanbar A, Mirzai M, Abuslima E, Flubacher N, Eghbalian R, Eiche E, Garbev K, Bergfeldt B, Ullrich A, Leibold H, Müller M, Mokry M, Stapf D, Nick P (2021) Starve to Sustain – An Ancient Syrian Landrace of Sorghum as Tool for Phosphorous Bioeconomy? Int J Mol Biol 22, 9312 - pdf

Metabolic LEGO with a Chip

What was the question behind this work? Life is communication. The cells of an organism, but also different organisms are in continuous mutual exchange. Only by this way, Life can organise itself without the need for a Big Boss. We are familiar with the electrical communication of our nerve cells - however, the lion's share of cellular communication is brought about by chemistry. There is negotiating, but also cheating, tossing out of context, and responding. Can we listen to this chemical dialogue and perhaps even steer it one day?

How did we approach this question? In cooperation with the team of Prof. Dr. Guber at the Institute for Mikrostructure Technology at the Campus North we have developed over years a microfluidic chip for plant cells. This allows co-cultivating different cells together, such that chemical communication is possible, while physical distance is kept.

What came out? In our newest work we investigate exemplarily, what one can do with this chip system. We show that lonely plant cells stop dividing, but can be motivated by the chip to reinstall proliferation, when they sense, through the compounds in the microfluidic stream that other cells are around (Quorum Sensing). We show further that the chip allows to study, how fungi that associate with the Esca Syndrome (a grapevine disease that turns into a threat due to climate change) respond to the presence of plant cells by generating toxins. In a third application we play metabolic LEGO and combine two different cell lines from the medicinal plant Catharanthus roseus into a team to generate by synergy vindoline, the immediate pre-cursor of the precious anti-tumour compounds vinblastin and vincristine. The chip represents an important milestone in our Interreg project DialogProTec.

Publication 166. Finkbeiner T, Manz C, Raorane M, Metzger C, Schmidt-Speicher L, Shen N, Ahrens R, Maisch J, Nick P, Guber A (2021) A modular microfluidic bioreactor to investigate plant cell-cell interactions. Protoplasma, - pdf