Nathan Innard

Tracking anaerobic microbial community responses using a synthetic biology approach

About me

I studied Genetics for my undergraduate degree at the University of York, which included an Erasmus year at the university of Jena in Germany. Follwing my BSc I returned to York to complete an MSc by research. My project was focused on developing genetic tools in methanogenic archaea, which are responsible for the production of methane during the process of anaerobic digestion, and are therefore of interest from a biofuels perspective. Following my MSc I took some time to get some experience of employment outside of academia, and have now returned to study for a PhD.

My project

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the natural process through which organic waste is broken down in the absence of oxygen to produce methane and carbon dioxide (biogas). This natural process has been co-opted for human use, perhaps most notably in the sewage treatment industry where it is used to convert our organic waste (sewage sludge) into biogas (fuel) and digestate (which can be used as fertiliser). The process itself is carried out by a complex community of microorganisms, and disruptions to this community can result in reduction in biogas yields or even process failure, which can be very costly to put right. The ability to monitor the health of AD communities in the sewage treatment process could give plant operators an early warning system to enable them to take action to avoid undesirable outcomes. Currently, monitoring of such communities is reliant on omics’ approaches which in addition to requiring specialist equipment are often time consuming and costly. A more attractive approach for AD community monitoring would be to employ synthetic biology approaches to report on community responses, which would be expected to be both cheaper and simpler to operate. The aim of this project is therefore to develop synthetic biology tools to enable AD communities to be monitored more easily and less invasively.


Twitter: None