The Horsfall Lab is working on a £3 million collaborative project, funded by the EPSRC, which aims to make land decontamination financially viable - Cleaning Land for Wealth (CL4W)
The consortium plans to use phytoremediation to remove toxic metal ions from polluted soil. This technique has been investigated in the past and is currently used to decontaminate land in some circumstances, but it requires a huge initial financial outlay and the plants used are normally burnt or buried, merely moving the problem.
Focusing on arsenic and platinum, the CL4W project will develop a bio-refinery to process the plants after the toxic metal ions have been absorbed. Microbes will break down the tough plant material and valuable feedstock chemicals will be extracted. One of the most valuable products will be metal nanoparticles, as the Horsfall Lab is to engineer bacteria that are capable of reducing the hyperaccumulated toxic metal ions into solid metal nanoparticles. Some bacteria have developed this ability as a defence against toxic metal ions and the Horsfall Lab plans to use synthetic biology tools and techniques to modify these bacteria, maximising the production and controlling the size, shape and homogeneity of the metal nanoparticles produced. Metal nanoparticles can be very valuable; Platinum is used in catalytic converters, for example, and arsenic nanoparticles are being investigated as a cancer treatment. In some cases completely decontaminating an area of land through phytoremediation can take many years, so the ability to retrieve valuable products from the plants could support these projects financially during the process. Both land and metals are finite resources, so reclaiming contaminated land in this way would help solve a global challenge.
The disemination of knowledge gained from the CL4W project is supported by an EPSRC grant to support Creative Outreach for Resource Efficiency (CORE)
When oil reserves are eventually exhausted the essential by-products produced in refining will no longer be available. The Horsfall Lab is investigating the use of synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms capable of enzymatically degrading waste from the paper manufacturing industry to provide a new source of aromatic feedstock molecules. Securing the supply of these molecules to industries which manufacture plastics, detergents, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, paints and synthetic fibres is vital to ensuring society can continue to use the everyday items we all take for granted. This work is in collaboration with our Industrial partners Ingenza and is cofunded by the Technology Strategy Board and the BBSRC. The results of this research project will form part of the Horsfall Lab’s contribution to a European network which is applying synthetic biology platform technologies to enzymatic biomass processing, funded by an ERA-NET in Industrial Biotechnology and the BBSRC.
The Horsfall Lab is a member of the Flowers Consortium, SynBiCITE and the IbioIC.
Louise has previously worked on an EPSRC/Procter and Gamble cold water-cleaning project that includes the identification and improvement of novel enzymes for catalysis and the use of synthetic biology to immobilise enzymes on polymer materials to create unique cleaning microsystems. The ultimate goals of this project are to increase resource efficiency by creating concentrated cleaning solutions with no deleterious actions between biomolecules and to increase energy efficiency by negating the use of heated water currently required for enzyme action within washing detergents. She has published a number of research articles, the most recent of which includes collaborative work on polymersomes, microsystems created to optimise resource efficiency. These artificial cells are synthetic biology tools with a great number of possible applications.