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Functional metagenomics and enzyme technology

Functional Metagenomics R&D is a relatively new and rapidly growing research area at SINTEF. Building on a long tradition of Marine Bioprospecting at SINTEF and NTNU, it aims at accessing and exploiting the metabolic potential of the entire microbial biodiversity in natural habitats, including the great majority of microorganisms that cannot be readily cultivated under laboratory conditions.

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Advanced molecular biology methods are applied to extract complete (metagenomic) DNA from environmental samples (e.g. soil, seawater, contaminated sites, extreme environmental niches) and transfer it to a cultivable host organisms for heterologous expression and function-based high throughput screening. The aim is to identify new and improved enzymes for industrial bioprocesses and novel bioactive compounds for pharmaceutical applications (e.g. new antibiotics and anti-cancer compounds). Environmental monitoring of molecular markers such as antibiotic resistance genes or pollutant degradation pathways can also be performed using Functional Metagenomics methods.

Functional Metagenomics: Key competences, research areas and products 
The Functional Metagenomics technology and competence platform at SINTEF consists of:

  • Environmental sampling and metagenomic DNA isolation from a wide spectrum of environmental habitats.
  • High throughput sequencing and bioinformatics analysis of microbial consortia and their metabolic potential.
  • Metagenomic and metatranscriptomic library cloning in small-, medium- and large-insert vectors, including systems with broad host-range capability.
  • Development of optimized expression host strains for metagenomic DNA using systems biology and synthetic biology principles.
  • Functional assay development and high-throughput screening.
  • Production and functional characterization of new enzymes and bioactive compounds by advanced analysis and evaluation of their industrial and medical potential.

Enzyme technology
Enzymes, including those discovered by Functional Metagenomics, often need to be optimized for optimal performance in industrial processes and to withstand the harsh conditions during such applications. This can be done by structure-based engineering and/or molecular evolution, employing essentially a similar set of technologies and competences available at SINTEF as described above, i.e. molecular biology (library construction, heterologous expression), assay development and high-throughput screening.

Enzyme technology: Key competences, research areas and products 
SINTEF's competence in discovery and development of enzymes for industrial applications includes:

  • Marine polymers converting enzymes, including alginate lyases, epimerases, chitinases
  • Lignocellulose converting enzymes
  • Laccases and laccase-mediator systems for lignin conversion and polymerization
  • Carbonic anhydrases for use in CO2 capture processes

SINTEF's bioprocess technology platform plays a central role in the production of enzymes for commercial applications.

Contact persons: Alexander WentzelAnne TøndervikGeir Klinkenberg


  • SIP Functional Metagenomics (2014-2017)
  • Biotek2021 Digitalt Liv INBioPharm (2016-2020)
  • ERASysAPP SYSTERACT (2015-2018)
  • H2020 METAFLUIDICS (2016-2020)
  • BIONÆR Antibiotics-resistance in poultry (2016-2019)
  • ERA-IB2 OXYPOL (2015-2018)
  • Biotek2021 NorZymeD (2012-2016)
  • Biotek2021 MarPol (2012-2016)
  • FriMedBio Natures creation of non-random structures (2016-2020)
  • FUGE-KMB MetaBiopOR (2011-2014)
  • Petromaks-KMB Metagenom (2008-2012)

Infrastructure platforms of relevance for Functional Metagenomics and Enzyme technology:
HTS, Molecular Biology, HT Sequencing, Bioinformatics, Advanced Analysis