Sociologist investigates ‘responsible innovation’ in sustainable chemicals project

Microbe chemicalA sociologist from the Faculty will study ‘responsible innovation’ as part of a £3m biotechnology project that aims to improve the sustainable production of chemicals and biofuels by microbes.

The chemicals industry is a vital component of the world economy that is faced by the need to provide innovative and sustainable solutions to provide the resources required for a growing global population. One approach to a more sustainable chemicals industry is the use of microbial cell factories to produce key chemicals from sustainable sources.

However, a major barrier to commercial cell-factory-based chemical production is poor product yield. Often this is caused by intoxication of the cells resulting in a less efficient performance.

The DeTox project, led by the Sheffield-based Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Crossing Biological Membranes Network in Industrial Biotechnology (CBMNet), will look at how to overcome poor product yields by focussing on how the properties of the bacterial cell membrane can be modified to create more robust cell factories.

Dr Susan Molyneux-Hodgson from the Department of Sociological Studies will conduct a study of collaborative research processes to develop a better understanding of responsible innovation during the project which brings together academics, scientists, engineers and industry.

Dr Molyneux-Hodgson, an expert in the social aspects of synthetic biology, said: “The approach of integrating sociological study into a technical scientific project is becoming more common, and it’s an approach that has already been shown to add enormous value to research. We’re very much looking forward to working alongside the scientists and engineers in this important research.”

Professors Jeffrey Green and David Kelly along with Dr Molyneux-Hodgson at the University of Sheffield are working with colleagues at the Universities of York, Nottingham and Cambridge and five companies (Green Biologics, ReBio, Lucite, CPI and Ingenza) as part of the project.