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Sugar, water and microbes - synthetic biology on the journey towards an oil-free future

Did you know that the next time you are eating vanilla ice cream, the vanilla in that ice cream will most likely have been produced using oil as a raw material? In order to minimize global warming, we need to stop using fossil fuels for driving our cars, for generating electricity and for heating our homes. But so many things around us are also manufactured using oil as the raw material. This includes plastics, fabrics, cosmetics, hygiene products, pharmaceuticals, and food additives such as vanilla. In a sustainable society, we need new green ways of manufacturing these products that instead of using oil uses renewable, environmentally friendly resources. 

What if we could use sugar and water instead of oil as a starting material? In synthetic biology, we use DNA technology to reprogram microbes such as the well-known baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to make products that the yeast would not naturally produce but which are of great importance to us humans. An excellent example of this is the production of insulin, which for many years has been carried out using a genetically engineered yeast. The great thing about this? The yeast only requires water and sugar for producing the insulin for us. In the past few decades, gene editing technologies have revolutionized the field of synthetic biology and a large number of microbes have been reprogrammed to produce a variety of chemicals that are important for industrial manufacturing processes or in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals. How do we synthetic biologists do this? And what are the challenges when we want to transform our fossil-based society to a society powered by sugar, water and microbes?

Practical information:
What is DNA? What is its role inside the cell? And how do we use DNA technology to reprogram microbes to produce something that they would not naturally produce? Together we will take a look at a simplified test case where we, thanks to our knowledge of how DNA works, can make yeast produce vanilla! 

This lecture will be in English.