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17 March 2023
UWC scientists strengthen their relationship with industry leaders
The University of the Western Cape (UWC), more specifically the Institute for Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics (IMBM), continuously strives to develop novel technologies and biobased products and processes that will provide local and international industries with a competitive advantage.

The most recent example is a two-year Research Contract with Distell Ltd, a locally based multinational brewing and beverage company. 
IMBM Director, Prof Marla Trindade


The project aims to employ expertise in industrial biocatalysis that the IMBM has developed over the past twelve years to develop an enzyme that meets specific process requirements for Distell. The project will employ several advanced molecular and biochemical technologies, but also a powerful technology referred to as metagenomics. 

Professor Marla Trindade, South African Research Chair in Microbiology Genomics and Director of the IMBM, and Dr Lonnie van Zyl, IMBM’s Chief Researcher, are two of a very small number of South African researchers who regularly employ this technique and who have successfully demonstrated its use in the identification of novel enzymes. 

Metagenomics allows for the discovery of novel proteins from DNA isolated from mixtures of microorganisms found in any environment (man-made or natural) without the ability to culture the original DNA host. The environmental DNA is introduced into an easily manipulated surrogate host bacterium which allows for the expression of many of the genes from this DNA, allowing researchers to screen it for enzymes of interest. The technology was developed based on the realisation that the vast majority of microorganisms found in nature cannot currently be cultured in a laboratory setting.

For the project, the IMBM appointed a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Amreesh Parvez. He obtained a Doctoral degree in natural product chemistry at the South Asian University in New Delhi, India. From his Doctoral study, some results were published in two research articles in international peer-reviewed journals, whilst others were used towards two patent applications on novel natural compound production.  With a strong interest in protein engineering and the identification of new enzymes associated with value-added compounds, Dr Parvez is the ideal person to drive the project.
 
Dr Amreesh Parvez

He says: “I am excited about the project because it is related to my expertise and experience. The project also provides me with an opportunity to employ metagenomics as an additional technique to identify novel enzymes”.

The IMBM routinely collaborates with many (over 30 currently) national and international academic and industry partners on a range of multi-disciplinary projects, for amongst others, the discovery of novel compounds and enzymes, and to identify the application of the compounds and enzymes.

According to Dr Anita Burger, the IMBM Research and Innovation Manager, the IMBM has had several industry-linked projects for the identification of novel compounds and enzymes since 2011. 

The highlights include: 
  • Production of semi-pure Geobacillus sp. nitrile hydratase at milligram scale for ZA Biotech, a Gauteng-based enzyme company, for testing purposes;
  • A five-year programme with TMO Renewables Ltd (UK-based biofuels start-up), with whom the IMBM co-developed a whole cell biocatalyst (Geobacillus thermoglucosidasius) for improved ethanol yields as well as engineering it to be resistant to the only virus known to infect this species;
  • Investigating the diversity of bacterial viruses on human skin from the South African population in collaboration with L’Oreal (Paris), with the aim of developing phage-based inclusions in skin-care products; 
  • Evaluation of the performance properties of a biosurfactant that was identified and patented by the IMBM for applications in industrial water remediation (BioDx Ltd Pty), and agricultural (Rizobacter Argentina) and cosmeceutical formulations (Cirebelle Ltd Pty). The most advanced is the evaluation of the performance properties of the biosurfactant when co-formulated  with the green biocide that BioDx developed and commercialised for industrial water treatment. The biosurfactant could serve as a dispersing agent to improve the activity of the proprietary biocide.  
  • Three projects with Axonova Ltd, a Mauritian-based biopharmaceutical company that specialises in preclinical drug development, for the identification of novel bioactives from IMBM’s collection of South African marine bacteria for the development of novel therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases.
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