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Imperial iGEM 2014



This summer we looked into the potential of bacterial cellulose as a modularly functionalisable biomaterial. In our project we optimise the production of bacterial cellulose by engineering Gluconacetobacter xylinus and transferring the system into E. coli. We also functionalise our cellulose in order to expand its mechanical, chemical and biological properties into new areas of use.


Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer found in nature. Due to its versatility and ubiquity we find cellulose has applications in areas from medicine to textiles.Much of the cellulose we use is impure as it is derived from plants. Bacteria offer an alternative means of production that produces a cellulose that is purer and requires less processing.

G. xylinus

Cellulose is naturally produced by bacteria of several genera as an extracellular matrix. This functions as a protective mechanism, shielding the bacteria from the environment. The gram-negative Gluconacetobacter xylinus (formerly Acetobacter xylinum) is a high-yielding producer of bacterial cellulose and so served as a suitable base for further optimisation.

E. coli

While Gluconacetobacter is a high producer of bacterial cellulose, E. coli is currently a more robust host for synthetic biology. Transferring the bacterial cellulose operon into E. coli would ease further in-vivo modification of the cellulose by allowing well characterised parts to be used more directly and has the potential for higher productivity.


Pure bacterial cellulose is itself a useful biomaterial with material properties that facilitate applications from filtration to wound dressing. We modify the material, chemical and biological properties of our biomaterial through the addition of functional proteins. We investigated different methods of coupling these to the cellulose.

Water Filtration

Our mass produced and functionalised cellulose can be used for a range of exciting applications. The biological functionalisation allows our material to perform enzymatic actions on its environment. We targeted our functionalisation to the problem of water treatment and filtration.

Mass Production and Processing

To produce a useable material from the wet pellicle we grew up cellulose in bulk in order to experiment with various methods of treating and processing it.This produced materials with a range of properties.

Tensile Testing

Having produced large quantities of bacterial cellulose, it is key to quantify the quality of our biomaterial. This determines the water flow rates that can be expected in a membrane bioreactor water filtration setup.