Biochemistry and Biotechnology
Through collaborations with industry and research funded by UK government bodies and agencies, we are able to apply research to green solutions that can deliver significant environmental and commercial benefits.
Exploring natural catalysts to clean up the world
Cracking the riddle of how lignin in wood is degraded has enabled Professor Patricia Harvey's research team to develop commercially significant new ideas with applications for the pharmaceutical, energy and decontamination industries.
Lignin is the second most abundant natural polymer and one of the most recalcitrant. The answer to how it breaks down was found in wood-degrading white-rot fungi, which secrete a lignin-degrading peroxidase. This was found to be the same type of protein catalyst produced by plants to make lignin to begin with, but with a key difference - the fungal protein uses a non-specific redox mediator to attack the lignin.
A range of applications from biofuels to anti-cancer drugs
This breakthrough shifted the focus onto ways in which the protein could be exploited to degrade other compounds, including man-made dyes and a range of organic pollutants. A detailed study of peroxidases from plant, microbial and human sources led to biotechnological possibilities such as activating anti-cancer drugs with peroxidise, and regulating the synthesis of lignin in plants to make better biofuels.
Treating contaminated land
Biotechnology in this area is attracting significant interest and investment. We are currently evaluating a hybrid bioremediation and phytoremediation process for treating hydrocarbon contaminated soil. Whilst we are also involved in a project that uses PAS-100 green-waste composts and white-rot fungi to decontaminate a former gasworks and oil refinery of petroleum hydrocarbons.
Using plant biomass to make bio fuels
We are working on a multi-partner biodiesel project to establish a successful biodiesel production process using locally grown oilseed rape. We hope to produce biodiesel on a pilot scale for Kent and then draw up a blueprint which could be invested in a company to explain how to make biodiesel sustainably. We would then be in a position to roll that model out into other counties.