A collaboration of three BIO5 members at the University of Arizona and a researcher at NAU has received a $3.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study biosurfactants—bacteria-produced molecules with extraordinary potential for commercialization. Finding such commercial applications constitutes one of the key objectives for Arizona’s bioscience research enterprises.
The grant also includes education and training funding designed to encourage students’ scientific aspirations. Opportunities to participate in research tied to the study will be extended to underrepresented students ranging in age from high school through graduate school, as well as to in-service teachers.
Surfactants are molecules that reside where two phases of matter, such as a solid and a liquid, connect. Their surface-tension-reducing properties make them useful in household and industrial cleaners, processed foods, and personal-care, agricultural, and industrial products.
Biosurfactants seem to perform even better than synthetically derived surfactants, but are less toxic and more biodegradable. New applications may include bioremediation of metal- and oil-contaminated sites, additives to pharmaceutical preparations such as skin creams and therapeutic ointments, use as anti-microbial dispersants, and environmentally friendly detergents and cleaning agents.
“These biosurfactants have remarkably elegant chemical structures that have evolved over the last 3.5 billion years to be very good and very efficient surface active agents,” said chemistry professor and BIO5 member Jeanne Pemberton.
Dr. Pemberton is one of the co-investigators on the grant, along with BIO5 members Raina Maier and Robin Polt, and Jani Ingram of NAU. UA Vice Dean for Graduate Studies Maria-Teresa Velez, also a co-investigator, will help oversee the grant’s education and training components.
For more information:
UA news release, 10/08/2007