Background

Colors play a special role in our everyday lives. The synthetic dye industry emerged in the mid-19th century, replacing natural dyes made from raw materials. Synthetic dyes, originating from petrochemicals, pose harmful health effects and environmental hazards, particularly through the release of toxic substances in developing countries. To improve environmental conditions and support a circular bio-economy, research is needed to advance the industrial production of natural dyes.

Historically, natural dyes have been sourced from plants, algae, microbes, and animals. Despite their ecological advantages, industrial production of natural dyes has been challenging due to low yields and issues such as seasonal fluctuations and competition with food crops. Fungi offer great potential for natural dye production, exhibiting properties such as colorfastness and ecological production using agricultural by-products. Fungal pigments also possess a wide range of beneficial properties, including antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, and antioxidant effects. However, their potential as high-value metabolite producers has been underutilized.

Several strains of a fungal species capable of producing a blue-green pigment have been obtained by MNEXT Avans and academic partners. This pigment has a long history of use in art and has unique physical properties of interest to the field of optoelectronics, such as electron transport and photostability. Despite the potential, large-scale and precision production of this pigment remain underdeveloped.

Project objective

The primary objective of this internship project is to screen the in-house fungi that are capable of blue fungal pigment production.  This involves identifying suitable growth substrates, compare strains on growth rate, production and yield. Connect to the bioprocess optimization project for input on further optimizing the best strain. Obtained blue pigments can be tested by our project partners in different applications.

Project description

  1. Literature Review and Theoretical Background:
    • Conduct a comprehensive review of existing research on fungal colorant production, focusing on the blue-producing fungal speices MNEXT has.
    • Understand the biochemical pathways involved in the synthesis of the blue colorant.
  2. Experimental Design and Preparation:
    • Develop a detailed experimental plan to test various growth media and conditions for testing different strains. Determine a set of criteria for comparios
    • Prepare laboratory setups, including liquid media cultures, to grow different strains of the fungi in different scales: shaker flask and bioreactors (if possible).
  3. Characterization of  strains:
    • Test different formulations of growth media, mainly synthetic and defined media, but also include complete substrates like orange juice as reported by literature, to determine the most effective composition for pigment production for screening of the different strains.
    • Monitor growth parameters such as pH, temperature, nutrient concentrations, and biomass production.
  4. Comparative Analysis of strains:
    • Compare the performance of different fungal strains in terms of growth rate, pigment yield, and purity.
    • Select best strains based on set criteria.
  5. Data Collection and Analysis:
    • Collect and analyze data from the experiments to identify trends and correlations between growth conditions and pigment production.
    • Use statistical tools to optimize and validate experimental results.
  6. Reporting and Documentation:
    • Document experimental procedures, results, and analyses in a detailed project report.
    • Prepare presentations and reports for project stakeholders, including potential industrial partners and academic advisors.
  7. Recommendations and Future Research:
    • Provide recommendations for scaling up the production of the blue colorant based on experimental findings.
    • Suggest future research directions to further optimize and commercialize the fermentation process.

Expected outcomes

  • Selection of one or more strains for potential scale-up and further investigation
  • Identification of optimal growth conditions and media compositions for maximum pigment/colored biomass production.
  • Enhanced understanding of the relationship between culture conditions and pigment purity and yield.
  • Comprehensive project report with recommendations for industrial application and future research.

Skills and Competencies Gained

  • Hands-on experience with fungal cultivation techniques.
  • Analytical skills in optimizing fermentation processes and media composition.
  • Experience in data analysis, reporting, and project management.

Duration

This internship project will span 20-30 weeks, with a structured timeline for literature review, experimental work, data analysis, and reporting. The start of the project will be from 2nd September 2024.

Mentorship and Guidance

The intern will be supervised by experienced researchers and professionals in biotechnology and microbiology (MNEXT Smart Fermentation; Jasper Meijer, Mirthe Raats), with regular progress reviews and support to ensure the successful completion of project objectives.

For more info or to submit your application, contact Jasper Meijer (j.meijer8@avans.nl)

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