Eva 1

Eva Steele

PhD Student

Hi, I’m Eva!I gained my undergraduate degree at The University of Edinburgh – specialising in Molecular Plant Biology. Through my degree, I developed a keen interest in Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology. I tried my hand in this field as the leader of the University of Edinburgh 2018 UG iGEM team, and have been hooked ever since. I joined The Horsfall Group in October 2019 to carry out my own exciting and challenging project.

As a component of plant cell walls, lignin is the second-most abundant polymer on the planet. I am using principles of synthetic biology to develop a downstream biological process to break down lignin into specific, useful product.

In my spare time I enjoy playing football and badminton, as well as climbing, running and cycling.

Public Abstract

As a society we are heavily reliant on fossil resources as a source of fuels and chemicals that are used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, plastics and countless other day-to-day products. However, the globally damaging effects of fossil fuel consumption is becoming increasingly evident and has placed the world in a state of climate emergency. It is more important than ever that we find sustainable, carbon neutral alternatives. Lignin is one such alternative. Thought to be the second-most abundant bio-polymer on Earth, it is a complex and irregular aromatic material that is found in the secondary cell wall in plants. Its role in the plant cell wall is to provide the plant with structural support, pathogen resistance and waterproofing - it is therefore extremely resistant to degradation. This quality has prevented us from exploiting lignin as a sustainable resource to its full potential. This project aims to develop a process that combines environmentally friendly chemical and biocatalytic treatments to derive specific, valuable products from lignin – adding economic viability to the biorefinery.

Scientific Abstract

As we are now in a state of climate emergency, finding sustainable alternatives to fossil resources is paramount. The biorefinery – in which the composite materials from waste, or underused biomass are extracted and purified – are a compelling, sustainable alternative to oil refineries. However, biorefineries are not currently economically competitive. This is due in part to the absence of an efficient process to degrade lignin into useful, valuable products. As a component of the secondary plant cell wall, lignin is thought to be the second most abundant bio-polymer on Earth. It is a complex, aromatic polymer – heterogeneous in both composition and structure. Its irregularity gives lignin an inherent recalcitrance that inhibits efficient depolymerisation. Pre-treatments, such as organosolv processing, partially degrade lignin by cleaving the comparatively weaker and common aryl ether linkages in the polymer. This produces a mix of fragments with high dispersity and chemical diversity. The aim of this project is to utilise an array of biocatalysts drawn from saprotrophic, lignin-degrading specialists to process an organosolv lignin mixture into a specific, value-added product.

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