FROM PLACEMENT TO PATENT

IBioIC's MSc course features the opportunity for students to undertake a 12 week industry placement. Employed by Xanthella, Barbara Guimaraes worked on a project investigating the effect of narrow spectrum light on cultures of microalgae and cyanobacteria. The results of which, are set to be included in a patent and published in a scientific journal.

Background

Each student taking the Collaborative MSc in Industrial Biotechnology is eligible to apply via a competitive process for a 12 week industry based placement. Our 2015-16 MSc student Barbara Guimaraes was sucessful in her application to work with Oban based Xanthella.

Xanthella Ltd. is an industrial design company working on producing photobioreactor systems to grow microalgae. As a Core member of IBioIC, the company participate in a number of research projects, PhD studentships and providing MSc placements.  Barbara’s placement was the second MSc project hosted by Xanthella in recent years based at their company site.

“The opportunity to have MSc students working alongside Xanthella’s team has been a very fruitful experience to our company. Being a small-sized enterprise involved in a number of different projects, the contribution of students allows us to reach targets that otherwise would take longer or additional efforts to accomplish and, is also a way to increase interdisciplinarity in our team and that may result in new ideas and improvement of our processes and procedures.” Douglas McKenzie, CEO, Xanthella Ltd.

Research Project

As part of Barbara’s placement, she was tasked with investigating the effect of high intensity narrow spectrum (HINS) light on cultures of microalgae and Cyanobacteria. Key objectives included the investigation of both HINS light and blue light LEDs exposure and Cyanobacteria inactivation and approaches to ensure a cost-effective application of HINS light in large scale micro-algae cultivation.
The idea of HINS light in algal systems could pose a great solution in an industry where there are no current efficient techniques available to tackle post-algal inoculation contamination. Potentially HINS light in algal systems would allow for a control of bacteria overgrowing microalgae in mass cultures. Through Bárbara’s research, she demonstrated the potential for use of narrow light spectrum as a decontaminating agent in microalgal production. Critically HINS light exposure did not affect microalgal growth and cell division but caused cyanobacterial inactivation in mixed cultures of microalgae and cyanobacteria.

Outcome

In summary, the research demonstrated a ground breaking application of a technology which is still under development and has tremendous potential to overcome current contamination problems in mass algal cultivation and possibly other industrial processes. Furthermore, the work that was done during this project will be used for a patent and the publication of a peer reviewed scientific article.

Benefits

Bárbara’s project has since been awarded the IBioIC Prize for Best Student Project 2015-16 which reflected the skills and underpinning knowledge that Bárbara acquired during her three month placement and was subsequently offered a full time position within the company as an Algal Technologist.

“During my project my industrial supervisor, gave me a lot of freedom to design my experiments and stimulated my creativity and problem solving skills. I was able to attend meetings with the scientific advisors of the project I was involved in which gave me a much better understanding of the impact of my work and improved by confidence. The MSc course has enhanced my career prospects since I was offered and accepted a post at Xanthella as an Algal Technologist and started the role immediately after my placement.” Barbara Guimaraes, MSc Student 2015-16