Microsystems in Bioprocess Engineering at KIT


The research group Microsystems in Bioprocess engineering headed by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Alexander Grünberger was founded in October 2022 at the Faculty of of Chemical and Process Engineering of the KIT with the aim of developing and establishing new microfluidic methods and tools for biotechnology and bioprocess engineering.

Research focus of the group are four topics:

  • Development and application of new microfluidic cultivation methods,
  • Investigation of population heterogeneity in bioprocesses,
  • Transfer, integration and scale-up of single-cell data into laboratory scale,
  • Testing and optimizing miniaturized reactor concepts for new fields of application.

The central questions that motivate our research are: How much cellular heterogeneity is beneficial for a biotechnological production process? Can new biotechnological processes and products be realized through targeted exploitation of heterogeneity or a microbial symbiosis?

The aim is therefore to analyze the dynamics of microbial populations and communities at the single-cell level using microfluidic single-cell bioreactors. In contrast to conventional cultivation systems, these so-called "picoliter bioreactors" allow the analysis of cellular processes such as growth and metabolism of individual cells and cell colonies with previously impossible spatial and temporal resolution with a defined nutrient supply. Of particular interest here is the behavior of individual cells under different but defined environmental conditions. This serves as the basis for further investigations into the influence and role of phenotypic heterogeneity on the stability, robustness and productivity during the scale-up of microbial bioprocesses. In the long term, both engineering concepts and synthetic biology approaches will be used to optimize and eliminate potential bottlenecks during the scale-up process. The aim is to have controllable and predictable bioprocesses and a simplified transfer of bioprocesses from the small to the laboratory scale and from pilot scale to the industrial scale. These topics have a high interdisciplinary character at the interface between microfluidics, microbiology, bioinformatics and bioprocess engineering. Only by expanding this interdisciplinary approach new methods can be established in the field of biotechnology. We pursue this goal together with proven experts in their respective field of research both within the KIT as well as through national and international cooperation.

With our experience at the interface between biotechnology and microfluidics, we are happy to serve as a contact and discussion partner for questions in this still new but promising field.

Nadja Henke receives funding from the Carl Zeiss Foundation