The road to China
In 2010 our biotechnologists went to China on a quest to make new contacts in academia, and pursue new business opportunities. In ECUST they found the partner they were looking for. Since the 1950s, ECUST has been using unconventional methods to improve fermentation processes for the Chinese people: So the potential of combining their fermentation expertise with our own was simply too good to pass up.
Responding to the call
Initially, the partners collaborated on improving a specific fermentation process using the fungus Aspergillus niger – a project which continues to this day. Later, when the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research put out a joint call for proposals for the Rational Design and Scale-Up of Aerobic Industrial Fermentation Process, DSM and ECUST were ideally placed to take up the challenge together.
Teaming up with industry and academia
The DSM Biotechnology Center - a world-renowned seat of knowledge in the field - led the project, which focused on penicillin as a test case. Each party also called on other long-standing scientific partners, expanding the project yet further. At DSM we called in the Technical University of Delft (TU Delft) with its expertise in computational fluid dynamics and computational reaction dynamics. This enabled us to scale down the fermentation process from factory to laboratory bioreactor dimensions. We also teamed-up with DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals, who brought in the penicillin case and relevant background information.
ECUST, in turn, linked up with Guojia, a Shanghai-based company with large research fermentors that can be used to analyze pilot-scale experimental results in real-life – a rare capability. Meanwhile another respected institute, the Stuttgart Research Center for Systems Biology, acted as consultant to the project.
This collaboration between business and academia is also greatly benefiting a new generation of students - with those from ECUST regularly spending up to a year in Delft, and those from TU Delft in Shanghai. Now, DSM and TU Delft are preparing the fourth planned MSc-level lecture series’ on Bioprocess Engineering to be given in Shanghai. Many of the Chinese students working on the penicillin project feel that the course has not only changed the way they view bioprocessing, but that visiting the Netherlands has given them valuable opportunities for scientific exchange with their European counterparts. In fact several students are already making their own contributions to fermentation science, through published papers and presentations at major conferences.
For more information, contact Henk Noorman.