TechConnect Innovation Spotlight: Scalable Biosurfactant Synthesis

February 19, 2014 03:01 PM EST By: Sarah Wenning

Lehigh University, TechConnect World 2013 National & Global Innovation Awardee, Washington, DC

TechConnect recently had a chance to speak with Bryan Berger, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, Lehigh University. Dr. Berger presented his biosurfactant technology at the 2013 TechConnect World-National Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C.

“I found the TechConnect event very educational, “ said Berger.  “The five-minute oral presentation to Venture Capital and Industry panelists was extremely useful and educational.  The presentation format was very structured, which was excellent for learning to how to successfully ‘pitch’ a technology.” 

Interest and use of surfactants has grown over the past 10 years, mainly due to the emergence of applications in biofuels, oil recovery and bioremediation. This has created a push towards green, biodegradable surfactants. However, large-scale biosurfactant production is limited due do a lack of understanding of both the identity and mechanism of biosynthesis.

Lehigh University has developed a genetic cassette that can be easily modified to overcome these limitations. The technology is a recombinant system using high yielding ecoli strains for creating hydrophobics of defined specificity and activity, allowing large scale manufacturing and simple purification. This process offers advantages to engineer changes in structure through site-directed mutagenesis or directed evolution and it can overcome toxicity though inclusion of body formation.

“This invention provides for scalable, constitutive expression, and can be tailored to biomedical, food, cosmetics, materials, energy or other key applications. We have a grant application pending now on a food safety idea related to this work,” said Berger.  “ We hope to be back in June 2014 with a food safety submission.”

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