Scientific advisor of the laboratory for microbial molecular genetics and ecology (LMMGE) and the institute of molecular genetics and genetic engineering (IMGGE), University of Belgrade
Climate change, the circular economy, sustainable mobility, food security, health and sustainable agriculture are key challenges that will shape the future of our society. With the Green Deal, the EU has set an ambitious strategy to achieve climate neutrality, transition to a circular economy and develop a more sustainable food system. Our food, cosmetics, clothing and other products and consumables across our lives need to become leaner and greener, and biotechnology solutions can contribute to responding to this need.
Although mostly imperceptible to us, microorganisms play key roles in carbon and nutrient cycling, human, animal and plant health, and failing to appreciate the importance of microbial processes fundamentally limits our understanding of Earth’s biosphere and our response to climate change, thus jeopardising efforts to create an environmentally sustainable future. Microbes are also a source of various products with applications across all major industries, including the pharmaceutical, chemical, food, environmental and agricultural industries. Microbial diversity provides a massive pool of inimitable chemicals, which are today becoming a treasured source for innovative biotechnology.
The eco-biotechnology and drug development group from the institute of molecular genetics and genetic engineering (University of Belgrade) is making remarkable progress on the biotechnological conversion of a variety of waste streams and by-products
Advanced molecular biotechnologies, incorporating the concepts and techniques of genetic engineering, molecular biology, systems and synthetic biology, evolutionary engineering, as well as green chemistry, biocatalysis and process engineering offer a conceptual and technological framework to expedite the creation of new enzymes and pathways, or the modification of existing ones, for the optimal production of desired products. By enabling the design of microorganisms a la carte, one can envisage an increase in the range of compounds that can be produced in an environmentally-friendly way to meet a large number of human needs – from drugs to new materials – thus increasing efficiency and decreasing undesirable Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
While Europe has a globally-recognised, high-performing scientific research community that has translated into industrial innovations – particularly innovations supporting the Green Agenda – in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland, regions like the Balkans (including Serbia) lag behind due to a lack of public and private investment in fundamental and applied environmental research.
On the other hand, the Eco-Biotechnology and Drug Development Group from the Institute of Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering (University of Belgrade) is making remarkable progress on the biotechnological conversion of a variety of waste streams and by-products into next generation biopigments (biobased dyes), biotherapeutics and biopolymers, which are intended for high value added applications that create an environmental and economic value. As such, they are part of two pan-EU consortia working on the “BioICEP” (www.bioicep. eu) and recently approved “EcoPlastiC” projects that provide for the innovative biotechnological upcycling of plastic waste into valuable bioplastic materials that are proving to be part of the solution for the global problem of plastic pollution.