VIENNA, 17 November 2018 – In the summer semester of 2019, the new PhD program Bioactive will start at the Vienna University of Technology. In an interdisciplinary research project, the aim is to discover valuable, medically relevant substances in moulds – or fungi – and to produce them in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.
The WHO classifies antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to global health. The discovery of new bioactive substances with pharmaceutical applications is one of the greatest challenges of our time. At the Vienna University of Technology, fungi and plants are considered to be an untapped source of bioactive substances. The new doctoral college TU Vienna bioactive is intended to make mould medically relevant.
Moulds and plants as a source of bioactive substances
“We already know from previous projects that nature has many previously untapped possibilities in this area. The question is not whether we will find new interesting products, but which ones and how many,” explains Dr. Christian Derntl from the team of supervisors at the doctoral college. The focus is on novel antibiotics, but the discovery of a new food colour is also relevant.
The TU Vienna has been researching moulds for decades and has an entire library of different fungal strains. In the new doctoral college, their DNA will be examined for useful genes. The starting point is the production code of interesting substances that can be read from the fungal DNA. With this code, the substances can be transferred to other fungi that are easier to handle and to bacteria – or further modified.
This results in a research model that combines knowledge from different fields: from bioinformatics to bioprocess technology and microscopy. This networking requires intensive cooperation between students and supervisors.
In the environmentally friendly production process, cost-effective vegetable raw materials such as straw or wood waste are to be used and fully recycled. The plant material serves as a livelihood for fungi and bacteria and even contains interesting substances that can still be discovered for medicine.
Derntl says that the pharmaceutical research area has not yet been sustainably researched. For the first time, the doctoral college is trying to discover and produce new bioactive substances and to think in terms of closed substance cycles. In addition to the use of renewable plant biomass and maximum resource utilisation, life cycle assessments, material cycles, waste management and carbon dioxide utilisation are used to minimise the ecological footprint of the process.
A long tradition of research
The TU Vienna has a lot of experience in the research of moulds. In addition to research projects, the institute also works on directly commissioned industrial projects. In this context, Derntl refers to the renowned collection of industrial organisms (TUCIM) and successful cooperations in the field of process and organism optimization.