We meet Professor Garabed Antranikian Initiator, Scientific Coordinator and Speaker of BIOCATALYSIS2021, President of the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) in his office on the TUHH campus. Everything is still new here, because the university main building was officially just opened. The architects von Gerkan, Marg und Partner have designed a new entrance portal for the university, 34 years after it was founded. The old walls of the former engineer corps barracks are now joined to new architectural elements – a link of the highest standard. And that suits the topic of our conversation, biotechnology.
Biotechnology, too, links the old and familiar to the new, and does it to the highest standards. In 2007, after many years of basic scientific research, biotechnology in Germany received a fresh boost. The federal government funded five clusters to the tune of 60 million. In Northern Germany, the BIOCATALYSIS2021 cluster came out on top. This major success was already the fruit of intensive cooperation between the regional networks. Professor Garabed Antranikian was one of the initiators of BIOCATALYSIS2021 and is also a member of its steering committee. A microbiologist, he researches extremophiles, organisms that have adapted to extreme environmental conditions. With the aid of extremophiles, biocatalysts can be developed that make sustainable biotechnological applications and environmentally friendly processes possible. Experts call it industrial, or „white“, biotechnology.
BIOCATALYSIS2021 set out with the goal of systematically researching the major potential of industrially relevant biocatalysts obtained from microorganisms and transferring it to industrial applications. Where do the participants stand now after five years of intensive research
within the cluster? The professor’s verdict is positive. „We have succeeded in making white biotechnology visible. In 2007 it was still an unknown quantity. Today even the German Chancellor talks about the huge potential it has.“
And indeed, a lot has happened in the past few years – it had to, since „the potential of enzymes was not being suffciently exploited“, says Antranikian. Only a hundred or so were used in industry, which Antranikian thinks is „far too few“. Nature is the yardstick: around 7,000 enzymes occur in nature, controlling life processes. Nature shows us how varied and successful the processes are that are directed by enzymes. And yet it is by no means the case that enzymes have been insufficiently researched. There is and has been plenty of basic research in the separate disciplines of chemistry, biology and biochemistry. Industry has also conducted research and development for its own applications. But BIOCATALYSIS2021 has made sure that the protagonists in the enzyme community have shared their knowledge, networked and correlated their activities. In this way, the cluster has now done the groundwork for making white biotechnology the motor of future innovation. „We have learnt a lot from one another and we now speak the same language so that it should be much easier to work together to develop tailor-made products. The cluster has made it possible for us to develop the basic technology that will play a major role in future,“ says Antranikian in summary.
Antranikian is in no doubt where biocatalysis will play this role: „Everywhere! A main focus in my opinion will be in special and fine chemistry and the processing of waste streams and secondary streams, such as those from food production, however. Science shows its creativity whenever there are shortages. At the moment we’re still doing fine, but the global population is growing steadily and our resources are finite. We must try to use our raw materials more efficiently and to extract refined products from all the residues. Nature is the best teacher here, too.“ The technology is already there and can now be put to industrial use. The chemical industry, for example, has shown how it can be done. Antibiotics are products of biotechnology and no one disputes the important role they play in medicine. Antranikian is aware of this: „Biotechnology can play an important role in our lives – that was proved a long time ago. Now it is a question of manufacturing novel products that can be even more eective.“ For Antranikian the route to achieving that is clear: „We need to use our collective know-how of biocatalysis. First we have to understand nature, then we imitate its processes, and finally we improve them a little to make the products even more efficient.“
BIOCATALYSIS2021 is paving the way for new directions in biotechnology. Northern Germany has been put on the global scientific map in this discipline. And that is not all. German government funding is also an investment in talent. Forty-five PhD students and scientists have
been trained since 2007. Chemists, biochemists, engineers and biologists have worked together in an interdisciplinary fashion and now represent the highly qualified workforce that Germany needs so urgently.
But what of the future after the funding period ends? „In an ideal world?“, asks Antranikian and laughs in the knowledge that this is wishful thinking. „In an ideal world things would carry on like this for another five years.” Realistically he knows that all those involved will have to work to provide the continuity required. „We need to carry on using the structures we have worked so hard to create. We are cooperating closely with the other four clusters in Germany. The federal government has invested a lot of money to get where we are today. That is why it is important now that we carry on being torchbearers for white biotechnology. Establishing the ‚Industrielle
Biotechnologie Nord (IBN‘) association was definitely a first step towards keeping the links active.“
The problem that Antranikian is touching on is not a new one in the promotion of scientific research. Long-term investment is what is needed if valuable knowledge is not to be left untapped or even lost. But this by no means dampens his enthusiasm for the topic. On the contrary, Garabed Antranikian makes it absolutely clear that he intends to be involved when biotechnology adopts new approaches. These new approaches are sorely needed. „There is a lot to do in our world,“ are his last words before he has to leave for his next appointment.
Source & Copyright
All rights Cluster BIOCATALYSIS2021.
Magazine 2021, Best of BIOCATALYSIS2021 – Special Edition (2012). Article page 20-21. Imprint Page 32. TuTech-Verlag, ISSN 1869-2060, ISBN 978-3-941492-53-0.
BIOCATALYSIS2021 Project Duration 2007-2012 plus Extension till 2016.
Partner & Projects|German Cluster|Industrial Biotechnology. We are proud to present a „best of“ for our BIOCATALYSIS2021 cluster magazine. This special edition looks back on five years of valuable contacts, fruitful cooperation and exciting projects. Download PDF. Print-Version, Publication is free of charge. Order at: biokatalyse2021tutech.de