11.07.2018 Kickoff meeting, Wageningen, Netherlands

MERIT -an ERA-CoBioTech project leveraging state of the art synthetic biology for microalgal engineering- has been kicked off.

Within the MERIT project (MicroalgaE as Renewable Innovative green cell facTories) a collaborative team of global leaders in algal synthetic biology, outdoor algal cultivation, photobioreactor design, and process modelling will work on the sustainable and industrially-relevant production of high-value diterpenoid products from carbon dioxide and sunlight. Typically found as secondary metabolites in plants, diterpenes exhibit great potential as medicines, antimicrobial agents, and fine chemicals. Chemical synthesis of these carbon-based metabolites, however, is difficult because of the complex structures. Heterologous production in light-driven algal hosts represents a promising and sustainable alternative for production.

The development of microalgae that produce high-value, functionalized diterpenoids and the associated technologies required for diterpenoid production from these hosts, are key goals of the MERIT project.

The European Union is funding this three-year project through their ERA-Net Cofund Action under the Horizon 2020 Grant agreement No. 722361 (https://www.cobiotech.eu).

On 10.-11.07.2018, representatives from all project partners assembled in Wageningen (NL) to kick-off the MERIT project. Prof. Rene Wijffels welcomed the teams from four countries with an informative tour of the AlgaeParc (http://www.algaeparc.com/) at Wageningen University (WU). This facility is a multidisciplinary research institute that investigates all biological and engineering aspects of microalgal cultivation towards its integration into final production process value chains.

MERIT coordinator Prof. Olaf Kruse presented an overview of the project organization and key objectives, followed by each work package leader introducing team members and work package goals. Intra-project collaborations were intensely discussed during the following sessions and PR-efforts were planned. The project members emphasized on the importance of close exchange of project-related information and scheduled semi-annual project meetings for this purpose. Furthermore, regular telephone conferences were encouraged, bolstering the cooperation.

In addition to the fundamental insights into algal isoprenoid metabolism, MERIT will generate new avenues of commercialization potential for microalga-based diterpenoid products, allowing significant contributions to the development of the European Bioeconomy.