Pattanathu Rahman, SSE, Orion

For Dr Pattanathu Rahman, Director of TeeGene Biotech, a Teesside University spinout venture based at the Wilton Centre in Redcar, some of the biggest breakthroughs in the next few years will involve hygiene research and recycling.

The doctor, a senior lecturer at the university with 20 years of research experience in novel biotechnological approaches to bioproduct development, said that TeeGene Biotech is focusing its efforts on three core projects which they feel offer some of the biggest potential within the field of bioscience.

The first involves the creation of sustainable and high-performance biosurfactants. The biosurfactant market in Europe is already worth £511 million and is expected to grow to £1.35billion by 2030 and Dr Rahman said: “We have developed unique strains of bacteria which produce biosurfactants which work like soap and help to emulsify different liquids. While most people consider soap an effective way of removing bacteria from their skin, we have flipped this idea on its head by discovering a way to create soap from bacteria.

“Unlike, traditional surfactants which are made using synthetic materials, biosurfactants can be manufactured in a laboratory and are fully biodegradable and have minimal impact upon the environment, making them much more economical and efficient.” Biosurfactants have anti-microbial and anti-aging properties which make them suitable for biopharmaceuticals, cosmetic products and biotherapeutics. However, they can be utilised in a range of industries including oil recovery, pollution reduction and food processing.

Dr Rahman said: “The levels of purity needed for biosurfactants in the industries in which they are used is extremely high. Because of this, they can be very expensive. However, the unique way in which we manufacture biosurfactants means we are able to scale production to meet the demands of the industry. “This makes the process much more economical and cost efficient. It’s a very exciting technology with tremendous potential for applications in a range of industries.”

His team is also looking at ways in which high value metals can be extracted from plants at the side of motorways, with the support of BBSRC CBMNet funding. As vehicles pass along the road, tiny amounts of metal, such as platinum, are emitted through their exhausts and absorbed and stored by verge-side plants at a nano level. Dr Rahman said: “We are researching how these nanoparticles are transported inside the plant body – at a membrane level – so they can be extracted and reused. If our research is successful, important elements, which might otherwise be lost, could be reused and recycled. This could have important implications as this method is much less damaging to the environment than mining or conventional methods of extraction.”

The team’s final project, supported by BBSRC–HVCfP, involves using controlled conditions to grow micro algae, containing high-value materials, which have a high temperature threshold and can then be used in biofuels and soil conditioner. Dr Rahman said: “Although significant challenges remain in the commercial exploitation of algal routes to high value chemicals, the project has established the viability, in principle, of an integrated biorefinery based upon a hydrothermal-enabling technology.

“This concept is focused on the deployment of integrated biorefinery in the context of waste water treatment and the project has also established that there is technical viability for the recovery of phosphorus from waste water and the production of lipids that are of value to the biofuels, cosmeceuticals and nutraceutical industries. “As biotechnology develops, the range of different applications for which it can be used is constantly growing. These next few years promise to be very interesting for this particular branch of science.”