Plant biomass-derived bioethanol is regarded as a leading alternative energy source in a fossil fuel dependent energy paradigm. Bioethanol functions as octane enhancer, and can be used to replace up to 15% of petrol. It also acts as a fuel oxygenate in petrol blends allowing more complete combustion and hence, decreased polluting emissions. The departments of Microbiology and Process Engineering at Stellenbosch University, through the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Biofuels, are at the forefront of South African research to address the shortcomings of plant polysaccharide conversion to bioethanol. Strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae were engineered to simultaneously hydrolyse plant materials (cellulose and raw starch) and ferment the resulting monosaccharides through the development of enabling technologies such as advanced plant polysaccharides pretreatment and advanced Consolidated Bioprocessing (CBP). Simplification and cost-reduction of the hydrolysis-fermentation process can be further achieved by integrating superior enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation with more robust yeast into a single unit operation. To achieve this, supportive bioinformatics research dedicated to solving current problems in bioethanol biotechnology, specifically improved industrial performance of yeast strains and improved catalytic efficiency of enzyme hydrolysis, remain key.
Three bioinformatics research themes will be addressed:
- Polygenic phenotype analysis of S. cerevisiae for improved inhibitor tolerance using pooled-segregant whole genome sequencing and comparative proteomics.
- Sequence-based functional sub-classification of target hydrolytic enzymes to develop rapid prediction tools of efficient plant polysaccharide degrading enzymes and rational targets for protein engineering.
- Novel enzyme discovery through genome sequencing, assembly and annotation of novel fungal species.
Qualifying candidates with a strong Bioinformatics, Molecular Biology, Microbiology and/or Biochemistry background are encouraged to apply.
Value of Bursaries:
Masters R60 000 p.a (2 years); PhD R100 000 p.a (3 years); Post Doc R200 000 p.a (2 – 3 years) depending on performance. Deadline for applications is 28 February 2016.