2014-034 – Engineered Stable Microorganism Communities

Background There are countless examples of symbiotic organisms or even communities where the function of the whole outperforms the sum of the parts, each arising by a combination of chance and selection. Cell encapsulation or immobilization is a way to achieve these performance gains by design. Encapsulation matrices are designed to be rigid and chemically inert once formed. Encapsulated cells can be supplied with nutrients and their extracellular products can be collected through a network of channels that connect the spaces where cells are found. This extends life of the cell since it cuts down on the competition for space and, if the media is continually replaced, competition for resources. Currently, most cultures are not encapsulated. One current method of immobilizing cells is via alginate beads. Microorganisms can continuously grow in the alginate, and many other immobilization systems, which means that the community composition changes through time causing undesirable results. There is a present need for an encapsulation method that maintains the species composition and spatial location for the life of the culture. Technology Description University of New Mexico researchers have developed a method of encapsulating whole, live cells in stable engineered microorganism communities. These cells are sustained and able to capture light for photosynthesis. This method of encapsulation limits growth while maintaining biological function. Therefore, the initial community created is maintained for long periods of time. If the stable community then releases a compound of interest into the surrounding media, the product can be harvested continually for as long as biological function of the community is maintained. This is important for many industries including for biofuel, biochemical, and biomedical applications. As an initial prototype, researchers have several algae, cyanobacteria, and bacteria in liquid culture and have been testing encapsulation methods to maximize yield. They have also developed a prototype gas exchange chamber combined with variable fluorescence monitors, hyperspectral imaging, and a supercritical fluid chromatography system for measuring physiological function. Andrew Roerick aroerick@innovations.unm.edu 505-277-0608

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