The rapidly emerging industrial biotechnology industry is revolutionising chemical and biological manufacturing processes, transforming the way products are developed and providing new products entirely. In Scotland, the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) has recently opened two bioprocessing centres, generating growth in the country’s industrial biotechnology sector by driving projects from the lab to an industrially compatible scale at a faster rate.

The centres are not only boosting the UK’s bioeconomy, providing the much needed resources for scale-up facilities, but helping to reduce industry reliance on fossil fuels by enabling the innovation of renewable energy processes. Previously, companies requiring the expertise and technical equipment offered by these facilities have gone abroad, taking with them the investment that can now be injected into the Scottish economy. What’s more, the two centres will be critical in developing the necessary network of academic and industrial links vital for the growth of the industrial biotechnology market in Scotland, which is set to bring £900m to the Scottish economy by 2025.

The Flexible Downstream Bioprocessing centre (FlexBio), located at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh focuses on scale-ready process development. The facilities offered cover all aspects of industrial bioprocessing, from biomass culturing, to product isolation and QC. FlexBio can accommodate mammalian cell culture and microbial fermentation projects to deliver products as diverse as therapeutic antibodies and other mammalian cell culture products, commodity chemicals from microbial bioprocessing, products from photosynthetic algal fermentation and biofuels. The range of industrial bioprocessing operations accommodated by the centre highlights how widely it can be used by other industries across the UK. 
Serving both academic and industrial projects, the FlexBio centre is unique in offering low cost access to a start-to-finish, fully flexible pilot-scale facility at early stages of process development – with superb support from the integrated analytical laboratory. This fills a significant gap in the industry as existing pilot centres in the UK achieve similar outcomes, but with larger trial quantities, confirming that a process works productively at increased scale. However, the FlexBio centre provides a greater focus on process development than proof at scale, confirming the viability of projects for scale-up at early stages of their development. As an emerging sector, industrial biotechnology research and projects include new concepts that need to be tested prior to entering the commercialisation phase; the FlexBio centre has been designed to provide the previously non-existent testing ground for these new ideas.

Equally as important in helping to bring new bio-products to market is the Rapid Bioprocess Prototyping Centre (RBPC). Situated at the University of Strathclyde, the centre’s technological capabilities enable the quick analysis and optimisation of processes for new synthetic strains in industrial biotechnology operations. Housing a range of available equipment, the potential of new cell lines, bio-products and novel approaches to bioprocessing can be tested at the RBPC. Upstream capabilities include phenotypic microarray screening for selection of variants and detailed understanding of cellular physiology (see below). The RPBC also contains a range of fermentation equipment from multiple small vessel reactors for bioprocess development through to larger vessels for process demonstration – with analytical capability for on-line and at-line bioprocess monitoring.

Omnilog Phenotype Microarray
An example of the advanced equipment offered by the centre is Biolog’s Omnilog Phenotype Microarray. Allowing for the quantification of thousands of cellular phenotypes at once, this advanced phenotype microarray provides an insight into cell physiology and a means of linking phenotype with genotype and the environmental conditions.

This ability to link systems biology and bioinformatics with phenotype under particular physiological conditions can determine a gene’s function and regulation of expression of the gene product. This means the equipment has the potential to link genes directly to function; certain genes can be knocked-out (or knocked-in) and then the new strain can be compared with its parent. What’s more, screening against the thousands of chemicals present within the array shows which chemicals can complement the detrimental effect of the knock-out providing amazing insight into the biochemical processes within the cell.

The Omnilog can accommodate forty-eight 96-well plate batches. In this regard it is similar to a 96-well plate reader, albeit one with a significantly increased capacity. This allows for the testing of nearly 2000 phenotypes and cellular functions at once, effectively generating crucial data on a mass scale.

For example, experiments could include the testing of a novel combinatorial DNA assembly and measuring the ‘health’ of the new constructs or their ability to produce increased levels of secondary metabolite. Each well contains the same media but is inoculated with a different variant cell line. Cell physiology and regulation can be determined by coupling the phenotypic microarray technology to next generation sequencing.

A University of Strathclyde project is a great example of this process in action - researchers at its Institute of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences sought to understand how an antibiotic exerted its effect at a molecular level. Running parallel plates in the presence and absence of the antibiotic, they used the phenotypic microarray to show that certain nutrients could compliment the effect of the antibiotic. This evidenced a clear link between the biosynthetic pathway of the nutrient (an amino acid) and the mode of action of the antibiotic.
This data was then overlaid on comparative transcriptomic data which showed that transcription of a particular gene in the biosynthetic pathway of the amino acid was not transcribed in the presence of the antibiotic. With these two pieces of information, the team were able to identify exactly where the antibiotic exerted its influence on cellular metabolism and how that interaction occurred at a molecular level!

Ian Archer, Technical Director at IBioIC says: “Both centres will help support the £30m research programme being rolled out by IBioIC over the next five years, providing a wealth of opportunities for companies and organisations across a range of sectors in Scotland and the wider UK. The advanced equipment on offer is facilitating some truly innovative projects that are resulting in new products and processes, and helping to grow the industrial biotechnology industry in the country.”
Attracting a total investment of £2.7m from the Scottish Funding Council, Heriot Watt and the University of Strathclyde, the two centres will enable Scotland to not only continue as a hub for biotechnology innovation but also establish itself as a key player in the global IB commercialisation market.

To make a booking for the FlexBio Centre, please contact:
To make a booking for the RBPC, please contact: