Discovering novel marine bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers for biotechnological applications
Surfactants and emulsifiers are a class of compounds used in almost every sector of modern industry today. Currently, the market for these compounds is almost saturated with those that are derived by organo-chemical synthesis from petroleum hydrocarbons. Over the past few decades, considerable attention has been given to replacing these with those that are derived from biological sources. These bio-based alternatives – i.e. bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers – are recognised for their greater environmental compatibility, lower toxicity and higher biodegradability compared to their synthetic counterparts.
The marine biosphere, with its diversity of microorganisms, is recognised as an important source of novel bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers that could replace many of the currently-used synthetic surfactants/emulsifiers or to creating new niche markets. This is particularly relevant in responding to an increasing global awareness and demand for “greener” and bio-compatible products.
Valeria Semler is a PhD student within the Gutierrez Lab group who is screening, isolating and characterising bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers from a novel collection of marine bacterial strains, as well as from marine invertebrates that have been underexplored in this respect. The project aims to discover new types of these biomolecules and evaluate their potential for biotechnological applications, with focus on human health. The research involves methods for purification, detection and structure determination of these types of compounds (e.g. NMR, mass spectrometry, isotopic gradient centrifugation techniques etc.). The project is funded by a School of Engineering and Physical Science (EPS) PhD Studentship of Heriot-Watt University.