The international ME conference is the world leading conference in the field of metabolic engineering. It brings together leading experts, scientists, and students from industry, the government and academia to present and discuss cutting edge research. Since recent years, ME conferences are backed up by ME summits, which are held as three-day events in China to connect top researchers in metabolic engineering with the rapidly developing and growing research and industry in Asia. From 22nd- 24th October, this year’s ME summit took place in Tianjin, two hours southeast from Bejing. The meeting hosted more than 700 participants and covered recent trends in the production of bio-based chemicals and natural products through metabolic engineering and shed light on metabolic engineering as an enabling technology for driving innovation.
Christoph Wittmann delivered the keynote speech on bio-based economy and presented novel cascaded value chains from renewables to industrial end products. Among different examples, he highlighted new developments of the team on the use of lignin, world’s most underutilized polymer.
"We are not threatened by statements that one "can make anything out of lignin, except money". Our vision is bio-based manufacturing and we regard it as our mission to demonstrate feasibility, particularly for challenges such as lignin, which other people regard infeasible. For this, we try to push the boundaries of metabolic engineering every day."
In a podium discussion and discussions alongside the meeting, Christoph Wittmann shared his view on the successful translation of research into the bio-industry, the major challenge in metabolic engineering today. An accompanying visit to the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Tianjin Center for Industrial Biotechnology provided an opportunity to get to know ongoing biotechnology research at the Tianjin site and exchange views with local researchers. The center with about 300 scientists will be expanded in the coming years to five times the size and will in future be the center of Chinese research in the field of synthetic biology. Highlight on the evening of the visit to the center was a speech by 2018 Nobel laureate Frances Arnold on her pioneering work in protein engineering and bio-catalysis with selenium and boron compounds, followed by a dinner with organizers and other invited speakers of the conference. In two years, in 2021, the next MES will take place in Shanghai. By then, hopefully more exciting developments will have spurred on biotechnology in metabolic engineering.