Harnessing photoheterotrophic metabolism to convert methane into biopolymers

Host Faculty: Engineering
General Subject Area: Bioprocess Engineering
Project Level: PhD
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Harnessing photoheterotrophic metabolism to convert methane into biopolymers

This project aims to develop a biotechnology platform for new methane-derived product markets whilst significantly improving the efficiency of methane bio-oxidation (methanotrophy). Conventional biotechnologies utilising methane have poor economic returns; a result of low product yields, a limited range of commercialisable end-products, and high operational costs (including elevated H&S risk profiles). Our central hypothesis is that light energy can be incorporated into methane gas fermentations, thereby improving metabolic productivity. Whilst metabolically feasible, utilising light to promote methanotrophy (photomethanotrophy) represents an unproven microbial metabolism. Through a combination of careful enrichment, bioreaction-engineering and genomic assessment, this PhD project will investigate the coupling of aerobic methane oxidation with bacterial anoxygenic (non-oxygen producing) photosynthesis. This doctoral research project is part of a larger MBIE-funded programme entitled “Harnessing photoheterotrophic metabolism to convert methane into biopolymers” that aims to develop a biotechnology platform utilising waste methane to create value-added products.

The MBIE project is a collaboration between the Crown Research Institute Scion (https://www.scionresearch.com/) and the University of Canterbury’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences. In conjunction with ambitious scientific outcomes, this project has strong commercial goals. The student will be working closely with the Environmental Technologies Team at Scion, who have long-standing experience in design and development of bioreaction engineering and enrichment of anoxygenic heterotrophic bacteria. The doctoral project will be based principally at Scion in Rotorua.


Supervisor: Carlo Carere

Key qualifications and skills

We are seeking an enthusiastic candidate to start as soon as possible with a strong experimental background in either bioprocess/bioreaction engineering or industrial microbiology to either Masters or Honours (first class) level.

Does the project come with funding

Yes - $27,000 per year plus tuition fees. 

Final date for receiving applications



Bioprocess Engineering, Bioplastics, Microbiology, Bioreactors