Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Industry Co-funded Studentships

Novel microbes for novel solutions: Bioprospecting for properties with uses in many sectors

Project No.2490


Primary Supervisor

Prof Vladimir Jiranek – University of Southampton


Dr Renaud Toussaint – Lesaffre International, France.



For millennia, yeast and bacteria have variously been a foe or essential ally.

Some have caused diseases of humans, animals or plants, while others are ingredients in foods/beverages, aid in their production, are microbial cell factories to yield fuels, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and enzymes, or are biological treatments in agriculture and the environment. Only a fraction of microbes on earth have been identified and fewer still have been investigated for their uses or beneficial properties.

Bioprospecting involves screening collections of microbes to identify useful traits, and often includes prior expansion of such collections through isolations from e.g., plants, insects, etc. Consequently, not only is this approach likely to add to the long list of benefits we gain from microbes, but it will yield discoveries of new activities if not entirely new species.

The project will examine in-house collections of yeast and bacteria and expand these through isolation from the field. The team will work closely with global fermentation specialists and partner company, Lesaffre (France), to define the list of sought-after properties and applications, whether in food, medicine, agriculture or manufacturing. Promising strains may also be enhanced or tailored through directed evolution or genetic manipulation.

The multi-disciplinary approach needed will provide a diverse and exciting training opportunity for the student. For example, isolates will be identified by ITS (yeast) or 16S (bacteria) PCR and sequencing. Their metabolic and growth requirements revealed through high-throughput bioassays, their enzymatic activities by biochemical or spectrophotometric analysis and their formation of soluble and volatile compounds via HPLC and GC-MS, respectively. Newly discovered species will be genome sequenced, characterised in detail, and named and reported in the literature. The well-rounded, industry-linked training provided will enable the graduate to secure employment in research roles in many bioscience areas as well as in technical or R&D roles in industry.