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Trapping Microorganisms
August 2, 2010   
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A team of scientists in the southwestern city of Wroc³aw say they have found a way to immobilize microorganisms using potato starch, a process that could help advance biotechnology.

Microorganisms are essential for biotechnological processes such as fermentation, reclamation of land contaminated with oil-derived substances, and drug production. To ensure that these processes are conducted quickly and productively special methods are used to immobilize microorganisms.

The Wroc³aw scientists, who hail from the Department of Food Storage and Technology at the Wroc³aw University of Environmental and Life Sciences, have developed a method based on using potato starch, which is easily extruded at high temperature under high pressure. Team members include Ewa Tomaszewska-Ciosk, Wioletta Dro¿d¿, Hanna Boruczkowska, and Tomasz Boruczkowski.

Microorganisms can be used in two different ways in biotechnological processes: they can be left in a free state or they can be immobilized, the researchers say. When free microorganisms are used, they often cannot be reused once a process is completed. Immobilized microorganisms, on the other hand, can be used again in another process. To immoblize microorganisms, substances such as foam glass, cellulose or pectic acid are sometimes used.

The Wroc³aw team decided to use potato starch as the basis for a substance to immoblize microorganisms. When extruded potato starch is immersed in a solution of microorganisms, these get trapped in the starch’s pores. They have sufficient room to live and multiply but at the same time too little room to “escape” from the starch.

The use of extruded potato starch to immoblize microorganisms will make biotechnological processes more efficient and cheaper, according to the researchers. Applications include biosynthesis of organic acids, vitamins and amino acids. Potato starch can also be used to immobilize microorganism cells in fermentation processes, for example those of yeast in the brewing and distillation industry, and to clean up contaminated land. Potato starch is a cheap raw material, widely available, non-toxic and easily biodegradable, the researchers say.

The Wroc³aw team is also testing the possibility of using potato starch to adsorb heavy metals from waste water.

The idea of using potato starch for immobilizing microorganisms has won an award from the Wroc³aw branch of the Polish Federation of Engineering Associations (NOT).
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