Microorganisms: The Future of Food, Fuel and Pharmaceuticals – with Michael Sulu

Good evening, everyone. I hopefully will be informing
and entertaining you tonight. And it is a talk that will
be based around microbes, many different types of
microorganisms and the things that they can do for
us within society. So my apologies. Before I start, I better tell
you a little bit about myself and the discipline I work in. I’m a biochemical engineer. And what we do, generally,
is we grow cells. We use things that are
like this to grow cells. They’re called shape flasks. We also can grow
them in what we call a fermenter or a bioreactor, and
they’re just a small stir tank. The stir tank can vary
from the size of a Coke can up to the size of a
very large building. Well, after we’ve
grown the cells, we do some solid-liquid
separations. That’s really just
using things like this, which are called centrifuges. They use centrifugal force. They spin things very quickly. And you get a density separation
from the liquid and the solid. These are used at
a very small scale, at a large scale,
essentially just like that. After that, the next
step and the final step of any generic bioprocess
is to purify things. And we use
chromatography columns, which are just in front
of the young lady there. Someone much
smarter than me once said that one of the
difficult things to do is describe what engineering is. Engineering is a
really difficult thing to describe solely because there
are so many different branches and fields of engineering. But a way to kind
of sum them all up is that engineers
make things, engineers make things that make
things, and engineers make things make things better. So as a biochemical
engineer, the things we make are actually processes. We’re a division of
process engineering. So we make processes
that will make a product from a
biological starting point. The things that
we make that make those things could be the
equipment within the process, but it also can go down
to the individual cell, doing some cell
engineering so that you can get a cell that wouldn’t
normally make something make the thing you want. And when we say
making things better, all we really mean is
optimization of a process. So we’re looking at
either putting less in and getting the
same or more out, or putting the same in at the
start and getting more out. I specialise in fermentation. There’s a reason why I
specialise in fermentation, and I think it’s the
best part of the process. I think it’s the best
part of the process because A, without
it, you couldn’t have the rest of the
process, because it’s the starting point,
but also because it’s the part in which you
need to know the most. As an engineer, I have to
know things about the cell– that is, the cell itself, so how
the cell is made, the structure within the cell, and
also how the cell will use things, metabolise things,
break things down, make things within itself, but also
as well as knowing things about the cell, I
have to know things about how heat is
transferred across surfaces, how heat and masses
can be mixed and moved. And finally, I have
to know a little bit about how fluids move and flow. So within the rest
of the process, you might need to
know two of them. You rarely need
to know all three. So I think the people who
work at the fermentation end of the process are the
best engineers there are. Fermentation, I think,
as I will hopefully go on to explain across
the course of the talk, is one of the fundamental
parts of society. I think this next
slide kind of explains how some people see
fermentation and how it really impacts society, the last
point being fermentation and civilization
are inseparable. This was said by an
American poet called John Ciardi, who was a drunk,
so that’s why he thought it was. But if we go back to the
beginning of civilization and we think about the
use of fermentation, there is a bit of a
disagreement about whether or not we started to
brew beer and wine before we started to make bread. It’s actually a
little bit before that when the first fermented
goods start to appear. Before humans arose, there’s the
thing called the drunken monkey hypothesis, which says that
essentially some monkeys thought, there’s some fruit on
the ground and it tastes good. Fermenting actually makes things
a little bit easier to digest, so what had happened
was they developed I guess a competitive
advantage by being able to consume
the food that had been fermenting on the ground,
and they got a little bit drunk. Fermentation as a process began,
as I think, with most things in the cradle of
civilization, in Africa. It’s where all good
things started. But it really did, and so
fermentation as a whole, we’re talking here now about
mostly brewing and baking spread across as civilization
spread across the world. A little bit later,
fermentation started to be used within the dairy
industry for making cheese. And it’s a very, very good
way of preserving foods. It essentially
uses bacteria that are not harmful to get
rid of the sugars that could be within
the substance that could be used by
bacteria that are harmful and could poison you. So it helps you preserve
food, and that’s why it would have spread and
is integral to civilization. So this, the first
fermented goods, were found about 9,000
to 10,000 years ago. And not very much happened
for many, many thousand years, and that isn’t because
everyone was drunk. It’s just that nothing
really happened for a while. Then we had the age,
kind of the microscope. So we start at the beginning,
around 500 BC, up to the 1500s. The first three
people on the list really only had the
ideas that there were microorganisms that existed. And then with the discovery– well, the invention
of the microscope, we start to look at smaller
and smaller things, so Hooke with his microflora,
Leeuwenhoek, who first saw a bacterial cell. And so it’s an
interesting feat, I think, for civilization to
have lasted almost 10,000 years using something without
knowing what they were doing. It was very effective
in food production. So we’re still thinking
about brewing and bread. By now, of course, we
have got a dairy industry, but we didn’t know
how it worked. We didn’t know why it worked. We just know it worked, and
it worked repeatedly, again and again and again. Next on, we’re up
into the 1700s. So in the 1700s, we
have what is termed a mini-microbial revolution. You have Edward Jenner with
the first discovery, who developed a smallpox vaccine. That in itself, I think,
was one of the few things that was a stroke of genius. How he managed to come up
with a vaccine with very little information is amazing. I think it probably helps
that he didn’t initially have to test it on himself, so
the risk is mitigated somewhat. But moving on, we have Louis
Pasteur with the germ theory of diseases, Joseph Lister,
who was the first person to be antiseptic within surgery,
John Tyndall, who’s– some of his work is
in front of me today. He was looking more at the ways
of removing germs from things. So he came up with the
concepts of heat sterilisation. 50 years before Fleming
found penicillin, he was already
trying to work out what it was that was causing
clearance lines within agar plates. So he knew that there was
something, a substance that could kill bacteria. Then Robert Koch, he was
the first person who could– he was growing bacteria
within liquid media, which is a massive step
change, which is obvious if you’re an engineer,
a process engineer. But it’s much easier to grow
a lot of a cell in a liquid than it is on a flat surface. You just have a larger volume
and more space to grow things. And moving on all the way
through to the late 1920s, up to the 1940s, where we have
Florey, Chain, and the Fleming kind of combined
discovery, where Fleming in the early part,
in 1928, discovering and working out
what penicillin was, moving on to Florey and Chain
and their effects on society within the early 1940s,
whether the industrialization of the production of penicillin,
the effect it would have had on the war with the ability
to treat injured soldiers who would have normally
have lost a limb or could have died
from an infection, but were able to be
treated by penicillin. And then we think about the
fact, knowledge is power. As we’ve already said, there
are some wonderful things in front of me. One of the things that would
have slowed down progress is an inability
to look at things. So with the kind of
microscopes that we have in front of us that
were created by Faraday, you could see a microbe,
but you could only see that the microbe exists. You couldn’t see
what we could see now, which is the internal
workings of a microbe. So we go on to 1953. We have the Nobel Prize
for the discovery of DNA. And as is the way now that we
know exactly what happened, we can’t forget
Rosalind Franklin, who was the student
who discovered DNA through X-ray crystallography. And this is one of the
excerpts from her thesis. But that led to yet another
step change in what we knew and what we could do. It’s quite a while
again, so we have to wait another 20 or so years. Again, this isn’t because
people were drinking too much. It’s more about being able
to apply the new knowledge that you’ve gained. So the next part, I think
a little kind of aside, and explain something first. So this is kind of a
cartoon image of a cell. What it shows is there’s
two types of DNA within it. So the next step
after discovering DNA is working out what
we can do with it. What biochemical
engineers did was you create a recombinant DNA. So what we have on this
side is the bacterial DNA. And then over here,
it’s the plasmids. The plasmids are what
we call recombinant DNA. And recombinant DNA
is really just DNA that is taken from somewhere
else, formed into a circle, and it’s stuck into a bacteria. So what it can do,
though, is if you pick the right bits of DNA– so
for instance, the initial one, which I’m going to come
onto next, was for insulin. If you find the genes
that produce insulin within the body, you can cut out
that that genetic information, form it into a circle,
stick into a bacteria. The bacteria will then
make your insulin. So the first one, as I’ve just
said, was 1978, a great year, year of my birth. They discovered how to make
recombinant human insulin. It was a massive step
forward, because before that, for all diabetics, you had to
harvest insulin from animals. So we’d harvest them
from cattle, pigs, cows. And they were effective,
but not– and the insulin from animals is very
effective, but it’s not as effective as human insulin. So the ability to create human
insulin within a bacteria was the first step. It was first made in E. coli. Now other bacteria,
yeast can make it, so Pichia pastoris is used
to make it now industrially, as is Baker’s yeast, or
Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Another example of a
recombinant protein is the protein, chymosin. That is a protein that’s
found in hardening cheese. And 90% of all American
cheese production is done using this, which
has been produced ever since the ’90s in E. coli, also. So we’re getting kind of closer
and closer to the present day. What we have to think about
is the millennial marvellous microbe. So far, we’ve been talking a lot
about bacteria, fungi, yeast, and moulds, because
that’s what we used up until maybe 30 years ago. From then on, what
we’ve started to do is use different cells,
because we have the ability to use different cells. So algae is a
traditional microbe, is a traditional microbe. What isn’t a traditional
microbe is a mammalian cell. The mammalian cells
usually don’t– weren’t initially
thought to be useful, as single celled organisms. But with this list, what we can
see is as you go down the list, more or less, the cells get
larger and more complex. With a larger and
more complex cell, you can make a larger
and more complex product. Sometimes, especially
with health care, you need a very large
and very complex product. So we as a community,
we decided that it would be useful
to be able to use mammalian cells
or the cells that divide for mammals
as the starting block for a biological process. Right. Before we get onto the
present and future, which is the main bulk
of the talk, OK you think about one
element, which is a tool which is kind
of now ubiquitous within my field of engineering. And that is synthetic biology. I’m going to go through it
quickly, for two reasons. I don’t really understand it. But– I do, really. But I’m traditionally
an engineer, so it took me a little while
to get to grips with this. So for a long time, I felt
like this, just witchcraft, wizardry. It was a little
bit of a magic box, and I didn’t really know
what was going on in it. I always had a
thought to explain it, because to explain
it, you actually need to contextualise it. And I thought a
good way to explain it would be for me to kind of
open the floor to suggestions of things that I could
explain how you would make it via synthetic biology. I then quickly realised
that would be really, really hard to do. So instead of doing that,
I’m going to simplify it and we’re going to go back first
to the recombinant DNA which I’ve just described and
say if recombinant DNA is a bit like flat pack furniture,
in that you have the bits there, you make the chair,
then synthetic biology takes it a step further. What it would do, instead of
just having the bits already made so you can
make a chair, is it would let you make
a chair from a tree. So the tree could be
your starting block. The cell would then create the
tools to break that tree down and create the pieces
that you can put together to make a chair. That is a simple
kind of explanation of how the level is increased
for our genetic knowledge when you go from recombatant
DNA to synthetic biology. But with more knowledge
about synthetic biology, so we’re talking about
some of the stuff you may have heard of
in scientific news, like CRISPR Cas9, you can
go even one step further. So instead of having a tree
which obviously is made of wood and wouldn’t be too hard
to make the tools to make the flat packed furniture,
you could do this instead. You could use a chair, break
it down, make new pieces, make a different chair. You could take a table, break it
down, new pieces, make a chair. We’re still looking
at wood stuff. So it can go even further, hence
the picture of the plastic bag. You could literally,
as long as it has the right
molecules in it and you had the right suite of
enzymes, break down anything and make almost anything else. That is the beauty
of synthetic biology. So that, I hope,
is as clear as mud. Moving on, we now get
the joy of looking at the present and the
future of each of the things that I started off with at
the beginning of the talk. So the present and
the future of fuels. Fuels can be very
easily simplified into two different types,
gaseous fuels and liquid fuels. So we start with the
gaseous fuels first. There are two types of gaseous
fuel that people are generally interested in, the first one
being methane, the second one being hydrogen. Methane is commonly
produced via a process called anaerobic digestion. It’s been around for a
very, very long time. It’s essentially
making processes of what happens within
the stomach of a cow or any other ruminant animal. The process itself
is quite simply taking some kind of
carbohydrate source, using a group of bacteria to
break that carbohydrate down into acids, then using a
different group of bacteria to turn this acid
into a specific acid, called acetic acid,
which is like vinegar, and then using another
group of bacteria to turn that vinegar
into methane. It’s very simple. It’s been done for decades. Hydrogen is also
relatively simple. It basically uses any kind
of facultative anaerobe. And by that, I mean
a bacterium that can survive without
the presence of oxygen, as well as with the
presence of oxygen. And at some point within
its metabolic pathways, it will have hydrogen
as an end point. Hydrogen production is
what I did my PhD on. It’s a wonderful
process to work on. It’s also pretty difficult.
It’s also very hard to make a lot of hydrogen.
But production of hygiene isn’t really the issue
with hydrogen usage. The usage really from hygiene
is more about the storage– it’s more about societal
concerns around the storage and its safety. Hydrogen as a
gaseous fuel is way environmentally
better than methane, because you don’t
have to burn it. It doesn’t produce any
carbon, any greenhouse gases. When you use hydrogen
to make electricity, you just produce water. So that’s the present
of gaseous fuels. The future goes back
to synthetic biology. As I said, with
anaerobic digestion you have groups of bacteria. The difficulty– the
only difficult part of anaerobic digestion
is that those groups have to be stabilised. You need to have one group
feeding the next group. So you need to be able
to feed the initial group at the right speed
so that nothing within the mix of
microbial flora dies. This could be
easily circumvented using synthetic biology. You could put all of
the genes required to do every single step
of anaerobic digestion within one type of
bacteria, and then you wouldn’t have the
problem of trying to keep a digester stable. With hydrogen,
the future, again, would require the use
of synthetic biology. What we’d be looking at here is
instead of using a potentially useful food source
to produce hydrogen, is using synthetic biology
to allow the bacterium that makes the hydrogen to use a
waste food source to produce hydrogen. Anytime that you can
remove a waste from a system, you’re always going
to be onto a winner. Anytime that you
can utilise a waste and create value from that is
always going to be positive. So that’s the gaseous
fuels covered. Next is the liquid fuels. Again, there are two
types of liquid fuel, the first one being alcohols. So we talked a
lot about brewing, making beer, wine, et cetera. But you can also use alcohols
and burn them as fuels. People don’t usually use
ethanol, but it is done. But you can use other larger,
longer-chained alcohols, and they are effective biofuels. Again, as with the other types
of fuel, the step changes here, the future of that
field would be to use synthetic
biology, again, to look at what you could use as a food
source to feed that process. Another form of liquid fuel
is the creation of biodiesel. It’s commonly done
using algae to produce lipids that can be
then transesterified to make biodiesel. That as a research
area is still alive. The only real issues with
using algae as a cell line, no matter what you’re
using the algae to do, is the amount of
algae you can grow. The other problem
with liquid fuels, which is why I prefer
gaseous fuels in general, is that liquid fuels are by
their very nature liquids. We grow cells in
water, and water is one of the worst
things that have to be removed from any system. Water is the best solvent,
and therefore especially when you have an alcohol,
which alcohols like water, they’re really hard to
remove from each other. That separation of
water from your liquid can be very
difficult, very energy and economically intensive. For that reason,
and because lipids which are produced by algae
are usually non-miscible, so they don’t mix
with water, it could mean that the future
of liquid fuels are more likely to be within
the algal and liquid and lipid area. Now the present and
future of pharmaceuticals. This is a grey area, and
it’s the area in which the department in which I
work in at UCL does the most research, so the first point
being a universal flu vaccine. I guess a lot of people
know that the real problem with the common flu vaccine
is that we have to work out quite a long time in advance
what the likely strains of flu will be. Flu isn’t one homogeneous thing. There are many
different strains that have slightly different
genetic variants. Differences in those
genetic variants aren’t big enough to mean that
you get a different disease, but they are big enough
to mean that you need a different vaccine for them. So the universal flu
vaccine is really looking for looking forward,
thinking to the research area and saying to each other,
are there any parts of the flu vaccine
that are universal? And if you think
about how vaccines work, which I should
explain, because it will make your life easier
to go through this bit. Vaccines basically work by
your body being presented with something that’s
foreign and you developing a memory
and an immune response to that foreign thing. With a virus like the flu, it
will be part of the flu virus. And the virus is like a
piece of genetic material that’s packaged up by proteins. So all that you
do is the proteins on the surface of the package
are the things that are not natural to your body,
so that’s the proteins that your body will attack. So if you can find
a protein that is consistent across
all forms of flu, you can then create a
vaccine for that protein and thereby create a vaccine
for all types of flu. And the potential future
vaccines for epidemics is when I first heard of this,
a really, really interesting and quite thought
provoking idea. As we’ve just discussed,
even within flu there are different strains. The strains are
created by something that we call antigenic drift. So that’s just changes
in genetic material. The thought process behind
this is that basically, if there is an
epidemic whereby people are dying from a
viral contamination, there’s a very strong chance
that before it became– before the virus
became a killer, there was a version
of the virus very similar to the current
virus that isn’t deadly. If you can find the person who
got that version of the virus, they would already have an
immunity to the current virus. So they’ll be immune to the
non-deadly and deadly versions of the virus. So all you need to
do then is find out the genes that create the immune
response within that person, take those genes out,
stick them into a bacteria or a yeast or a mammalian cell. That cell will then
grow the vaccine that creates the– well,
you can use then to vaccinate a whole
population against an epidemic. The next three points,
DNA, mRNA, vaccines, stratified medicines, and
personalised medicines are really, really interesting. So if we go to
stratified medicines and personalised medicines, the
difference between the two– and it’s really– so the
areas are born out of the fact that health care
is moving forward. We’re looking at A, preventing
over curing, but also moving away from the kind of one size
fits all model for health care. And diseases are
obviously very emotive. So if we simplify it a little
bit and look at and think about if everyone in this lecture
theatre got a headache, we could do one thing,
which I could give everybody paracetamol, and the
pain might go away. And that’s kind of
a one size fits all. But with stratified
medicines, what we do is we group everyone
into certain populations. So we can think to ourselves
that if you are under 20 and you have a headache,
the most likely cause of your headache could be
that you bumped your head. If you are 20 through
40 and you have a headache, the
most likely cause your headache could be stress. And over 40, the most
likely cause of a headache could be dehydration,
for instance. And then we just look at you,
say you fit into this group, this is how we’re
going to treat you. And that is the basis
of stratified medicines. If you then think
even more precise and we look at
personalised medicines, we are now going to
instead of saying you are within this group, going
to say to you, what is wrong? How did you get– how do you think you
got your headache? Have you hit your head,
are you dehydrated? And ask you a lot
of questions, and we get to get a more
personalised, precise delivery. So now if I think
back 10 years or so, I was a firm believer that
personalised medicines would not work, which is a little bit
like being like like going back a few more decades and being a
computer scientist and saying, yeah, the internet
will never take off. It is very clear now to me
and to the rest of the field that personalised medicines
are going to work. They’re very, very useful. And I’m going to give you a
few examples of them to show. So the one that is not up behind
me that is often in the news is CAR T cell therapy. So T cells are one
of your immune cells. Essentially, what you
do is take the T cells from a patient who has cancer. You then grow those T cells
up, so you expand them, so you get more and more T
cells so you can use those T cells as a medicine. The CAR part, it stands
for– is an acronym. It stands for Chimeric
Antigen Receptor. What that does is essentially
chemically conjugate something to your T cell so that your T
cell will recognise a cancer cell. It then becomes very targeted
towards your own specific cancer, and it’s your own–
it’s your body’s own cell, so your body will
never reject it. And that is a very, very
effective cancer treatment. That is what we would
call a cell therapy. There were also gene therapies. Some of the examples that
are up on the slide behind me are ones that have
actually just been– I’ve just seen over last
week or two in the news or within the scientific news. So up in this corner, you
have a pumping heart patch. It hasn’t yet been
implanted to humans. Essentially, what they have
done is taken the heart cells from a person, grown them
up to create a patch so it can fix any damage in the
heart cells of any heart attack patient. Even more amazing, I think,
is the use of gene therapy. So this one over here,
which is actually a little older than the
current state of play, it uses viruses to deliver DNA. Essentially, you grow some
cells, you get those cells. You infect those
cells with a virus. The virus proliferates
within those cells. You take those viruses out. Within that virus, you
have packaged some DNA, and the virus is used as a DNA
delivery vector or DNA delivery mechanism. The beauty of this is it can be
used to solve genetic diseases. So this one is an
example whereby it is used for cystic fibrosis. You can– so this is an example
where it is used, I think, as an inhaler. So you can inhale a virus. It will then change the
cells within your lungs, So it produces a
protein, which is the thing that is deficient in
people with cystic fibrosis. This can go on even
further, because it can be used with the right delivery. So this is also linked
to DNA and mRNA vaccines. With the right delivery vector
or with the right delivery method, you can solve
many, many, many different genetic diseases. We’re staying away
from genome editing as a subject of the talk, most
because it doesn’t involve growing any cells, really. And growing cells is what I do. And before I move on, I
should probably also cell, if anyone is interesting
in growing cells, it’s a great job to
get, because cells grow. That’s what they do. So I don’t really– I never really have
to do anything. So looking forward,
again looking at the present and
future of food, I think most people
will be aware that food has changed over
the last 5 to 10 years. We are starting to
revitalise old processes. There’s lots of fermentation
based processes, so we’re looking at people
realising the beauty of fermentation as a
preservation method, creating things like kombucha
as an everyday beverage. And that kind of
revitalization of our processes is one of the things that
I really as a person enjoy, because I like to see
the fermentation– well, I generally like to
see the democratisation of knowledge. So I like to see the
fact that now we’re in a world where anyone can
do some form of fermentation, and people do. So it’s from kombucha to people
making their own yoghurts. There’s a great and a wonderful
growing craft beer industry. Then also baking,
the revitalization of sourdough and baking
within everyday life. So one of the
things that we need to think about in fermentation
and the present and future food is basically, because
we are within– well, for now the EU– we can’t use synthetic biology. There is no law
within the EU that allows us to do any kind
of genetic modification for our food. The law is different
in the States, so some of these examples
that we got up here are very US-based, but
we can’t do it here, any synthetic biology,
which is nice. It makes things a
little bit harder, but it gives us a new challenge. One of the biggest things,
I think, for the future food will be the creation
of new protein sources. And some of these
are examples up here, and it’s really just looking
at making new types of meat or meat substitutes. So if we start with
meat substitutes, there is a company
out in California called Impossible Meat. They essentially use
a plant-based protein. It doesn’t interest
me, because you don’t grow it in the same
way that I would grow things. You obviously have
to grow the plants. But what they do to
make it taste like meat is they grow yeast they’ve
genetically modified and get that yeast
to produce heme. Heme is one of the things
that’s within meat that makes meat taste like meat. So they then add that heme
into the reconstituted plant protein to make what is
apparently a very good beef substitute. I won’t know until
I go to the States, because it’s genetically
modified so you can’t get it here. Again, moving on,
cellular agriculture is a wonderful area of research. It actually goes back to
cell and gene therapy, so it’s one of those things
that I thought would never work. But there is a company that
makes it, so I am wrong. Memphis Meats, they make both a
beef and a chicken substitute, where the beef and the
chicken are both grown from cells of beef and chicken. The reason I thought
it wouldn’t work is because I was thinking
about things like steak, and most of the things
that when people are talking about
cellular agriculture is like lab grown steak. And I was like, that can never
work, because you’d never get the structures
correct because steak has got many different
types of material within it. It’s not just one meat. And to try and grow that
would be virtually impossible. Obviously, we have
massive advances with additive manufacturing,
so 3D printing. And with the
resolutions that we may be able to reach in the
future, you may get to a stage where you’ll be able to grow
up different types of cell, so your meat cell, your fat
cell, some connective tissue, and print any type of
steak that you want. I mean, obviously, I prefer
it to print it cooked already, so just take one step out. But that is kind of the future
of where things are going. And then the last point about
the present and future of food is really increasing the
linkage between food and health. So we need to think now not
just about the fact that I like to grow bacteria, but
also about the fact that we all like
to grow bacteria, and bacteria is within us. So I’m talking about
your microbiome, thinking about gut health,
the link between your food and your gut health, the link
between the ability for you to use what people
term probiotics, but introducing new
bacteria into your gut. So you can improve
your health, and then also the link between
your microbiome, or your gut in itself, and
things like your mental health and well-being, and
other forms of wellness. So this is why up here we have
this here, the psychobiotics, the future of mental health. There’s a lot of reasons
that goes into the effect that your microbiome has
on your mental health, and a greater
understanding of that area should mean that we should be
able to utilise bacteria even better to not just help with
food and physical health, but also mental health. Now can our marvellous
microbes make or do more? So the beauty of
them is actually one of the things that’s
been the biggest negative about microbes to date. The fact that they
evolve so quickly is why we have
anti-microbial resistance. That is one of the biggest
dangers of microorganisms. Their evolution is why they
were here so long before us and why they will be here
for long after we are. But the fact that they
evolved so quickly also means that they will
have the ability to do things that we wouldn’t
have thought they would have. That is how we found
only in the last couple of years strains
of microorganisms that can degrade plastic. And its’ that ability to
generate new genetic material through the fact that they
double and their life spans are so short, they can
get through many, many generations really quickly. That is something that
we will in the future have to use to help us
solve society’s problems. Thank you.


  1. Engineering is the most satisfactory occupation in my opinion. What is more beautiful than see how things get done,work and grow.

  2. I like how much more eloquent and comfortable he got as time progressed and we got closer to his actual area of study. Solid overview of the discipline, thanks RI

  3. Pharmaceuticals? Use money wisely and the medicine properly. I don't want something like the opioid epidemic.

  4. Using modified microorganisms as bioreactors is definitely the future. Maxing out the efficiency and incorporate it into daily life (food sources) will be a challenge though. If this was meant to feed the world, the first thing people think would be "soylent green", sadly.

  5. Lovely gentle overview from a slightly nervous doctor, from whom I expect many wonderful and interesting things in the coming years. (I'm personally working on small-loop PK reclamation though fermentation, with the goal of hooking that into pico-scale euglena production.)

  6. this bacteria must be available for everyody not only from pharmaceutical company in a context of society collapse if the government can not assure provision of antbiiotic, and other vital medication.. people must be able to produce their medications themselves

  7. 8:53
    1874 – Diamorphine – C. R. Alder Wright,  St. Mary's Hospital Medical School.

    My question, how does opiods effect micro organisms?

  8. I loved the delivery and organization of the material, and it gives me quite a bit of hope for the study of microorganisms in general which is a nice change of pace.

  9. A decisive pair of negative influences to progress, quality of life and, ultimately, equality among people, are ignorance and church/religions.

  10. If everyone in the room gets a headache, don't bother with personalized medicine, get outside immediately, carbon monoxide is serious! Jk, fascinating talk.

  11. Thank you very much. I wonder if microbiology can bring us insulin, vitamin c, vanillin,… can it efficiently make fresh water from the oceans?

  12. Can we all just agree to stop hating on GMO's? :D. Get some proper legislation about it but don't ban it all together ^^.

  13. I look forward to microbe evolution being utilised in the same way machine learning is used. Throw a bunch of variations at a problem and evolve from the one that worked best.

  14. We're very proud of Mike – great communicator, scientists, engineer and all-round UCL Biochemical Engineering hero. He's led some amazing research, supported countless students and researchers and we're very proud to call him a colleague and, dare we say it, legend.

  15. Dr. Sulu put together a clear, understandable and easy to understand lecture about some really complex science. That's really hard to do. Excellent work.

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