excursion to Amsterdam

During our trip to Amsterdam we visited the company PHOTANOL in the Science Park Amsterdam. The company operates with a genetic modification of cyanobacteria to produce different biochemicals. During their life the bacteria transfer carbon dioxide through photosynthesis into organic bulk. This process allows PHOTANOL to produce a wide range of substances like acetic acid, lactate, ethanol and butanol as well as organic acids and biofuels. One part is the production of lactic acid, which is then polymerized to polylactic acid (PLA). The production of PLA is very promising using cyanobacteria, because it not only uses the carbondioxide from the air but also the bacteria release the lactic acid directly to the water. Therefore no complicated extraction process in necessary. Also the bacteria do not compete in land use with the production of food.

The company works closely together with the Institute for Life Sciences of the UvA’s Faculty of Science and uses their labs on campus. We had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes and the work with the living organisms. The gene-modified cyanobacteria were shown to us at various stages of development. We learned that they thrive best in a specific wavelength of light and grow most homogeneously when they are always in motion. On a small improvised photobioreactor the advantages, opportunities and also occurring problems of this kind of photofermentation were brought to us. From the outside all seems to be a simple process, but in fact it is very complex.

Interestingly enough, since only the producing organism is genetically modified the products themselves do not have to be labeled as such.