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GRAZ, AUSTRIA, January 16, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The air we breathe contains much more information than how many drinks you had at the last party. You can even draw conclusions about a person's state of health. In humans, thanks to the most sensitive analytical instruments, even cancer signals can be found in the breath. A cigarette leaves signs in the exhaled air a week after smoking.
Not only people, but also microorganisms "breathe". After several years of joint research of acib and the Tyrolean business partner Ionimed on the "breath" of microorganisms the sensitive analysis of the components of respiratory air has become possible. For the first time the health status of bacteria or yeasts, which are grown in a fermentation vessel to produce active agents for the pharmaceutical industry, can be observed in real-time.
"Our analysis method detects individual substances which are directly related to the metabolism of the cell," explains Gerald Striedner, acib-project leader at the University of Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU). With this information, process engineers can quickly intervene in the production process if something does not go according to plan. Preventing an overuse of the cells, it is at the same time possible to avoid too few or inferior products. Project member Markus Luchner recently got the INiTS Award 2012 for his contribution.
"The challenge was to develop a technology that meets the strict requirements of the pharmaceutical industry and at the same time leads the "breath" to the analyser" as unchanged as possible", says Rene Gutmann from acib-partner Ionimed. The analyzing unit - a highly sensitive proton transfer mass spectrometer - must be connected to the sterile production vessel without any chance for infections. In addition, the information conveyed in the exhaust must reach the analyzer unchanged to enable reliable conclusions. To this end, the researchers in the acib-network developed a suitable interface between fermenter and analyzing unit. For the first time the analysis of industrial fermentation processes in a production scale of several 1000 liters is possible without interfering with the sterile areas.
The safety in manufacturing active pharmaceutical ingredients rises while costs decrease because production losses can be prevented and the processes can be improved immediately - based on the statements of the on-line analysis of the cell metabolism. Previously, for process control technicians had to draw samples, work them up und finally analyse them - in comparison a slow and costly method. "Our new technology once again highlights the innovation performance of Austrian biotechnology", says Anton Glieder, scientific director of acib. The innovation has been awarded the INiTS Award 2012 in the category "Life Science". The award went to acib-researcher Markus Luchner for enabling the "trial and error" method in fermentation processes to be replaced by a substantial on-line analysis.
How the PTR-MS works
The PTR-MS method can detect dozens of volatile products that are "exhaled" by microorganisms during fermentation, including acetone, acetaldehyde, indole, isoprene, ethanol or methanol. If Escherichia coli (in the biotech industry most widely used species of bacteria) "exhales", for example, tiny traces of acetaldehyde in a fermentation that is an indication that the desired sugar breakdown no longer takes place (along with the production of the target product), but the microorganisms have changed to an unwanted metabolic pathway (a kind of acid fermentation). On the basis of the results of the air analysis, the process can be redirected.
The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) is the Austrian K2 Centre for Industri-al Biotechnology with locations in Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna. As a a center of excellence acib is an association currently ten universities and 30 project partners, including large companies such as BASF, DSM, Sandoz, Boehringer Ingelheim, Jungbunzlauer, F. Hoffmann-La Roche, Novartis, VTU Technology or Sigma Aldrich. Owners are the Universities of Innsbruck and Graz, Graz University of Technology, the University of Natural Resources, Vienna and Joanneum Research.
At acib, 190 employees work in more than 40 research projects. The budget until 31.12.2014 is 60 million Euros. Public funding (58% of the budget) comes from the Research Promotion Agency of the Republic of Austria (FFG), the country Tyrol, the Styrian Business Promotion Agency (SFG) and the Technology Agency of the City of Vienna (ZIT). The EU funds additional projects such as CHEM21.
The competence center acib - Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology - is sponsored within COMET - Competence Centres for Excellent Technologies by the BMVIT, BMWFJ and the provinces of Styria, Tyrol and Vienna. The COMET program is handled by the FFG.
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