UCC Led Project Hopes To Replace Oil With Yeast In The Production Of Fuels And Plastics

Scientists at University College Cork are leading a €6.3 million EU funded project that could see yeast replace oil in the production of aviation oil, plastics, cosmetic products, and might even lead to the creation of new kinds of beer.

Dr John Morrissey, project coordinator and senior lecturer in UCC’s School of Microbiology, envisions a future where all of our products will be developed efficiently from natural renewable sources – yeast being the unsung hero of this futuristic production line.

Yeast is already used in the production of many food flavourings, the anti-aging compound Resveratrol, the malaria drug Artemisinin, the grapefruit extract Nootkatone, insulin, bioethanol, bioplastics, and there is potential for many more industrial applications.

In an interview published in the Irish Times, Morrissey described how yeast can be used in a wide range of products provided they can be re-programmed.

In order to do this, Morrissey will lead a team of scientists from Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands and France in applying a mixture of engineering and mathematical principles to the biology of several yeast species so that the cell metabolism creates valuable compounds (instead of alcohol and CO2).

Credit: John Sheehan

UCC Academy supported the writing and managing of the funding proposal that was ranked third out of 80 submissions – five of which were awarded funding from the EU.

The Academy’s Aoife Corcoran assisted writing the original proposal, and subsequent to the awarding of the multi-million Euro grant, Lucy Taylor will manage administrative and communication aspects of the project during its four year lifespan.

The interdisciplinary nature of the proposal, alongside the wide range of potential applications, would have helped sway the decision of the international judges.

Dr Sergio Fernandez-Ceballos of Enterprise Ireland says this project is ‘…an example of how biotech can achieve spectacular progress as an enabling technology to drive long-term growth and jobs across various economic sectors.’

Although society is often sceptical this kind of science, the CHASSY project is a great example of synthetic biology benefitting society in an entirely safe way.

Indeed, the potential is massive, with the industrial biotechnology sector directly responsible for 94,000 full-time jobs in Europe and generates approximately €31 billion annually.