Using High-Throughput Bioinformatics to Investigate the Stability of a Newly Developed Anaerobic Fermentation Bioprocess

EPA Grant Number: F13C10555

Title: Using High-Throughput Bioinformatics to Investigate the Stability of a Newly Developed Anaerobic Fermentation Bioprocess
Investigators: Spirito, Catherine May
Institution: Cornell University
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: September 1, 2014 through September 1, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Bio-Environmental Engineering


A newly developed anaerobic bioprocess is capable of taking dilute ethanol (i.e., undistilled cellulosic ethanol) and using it as a source of carbon energy and reducing equivalents to upgrade short-chain carboxylic acids (i.e., acetic and n-butyric acid which are present in food waste leachate) to medium-chain carboxylic acids (i.e., n-caproic acid), which are more energy dense and easier to separate from solution. The objective of this research is to investigate the stability of this system by performing a detailed time series study to link the effect of specific perturbations to specific changes in microbial community structure and performance.


To investigate the effect of perturbations on microbial community structure and performance, several 5-L continuously-stirred bioreactors will be fed with soluble substrates and designed to promote formation
of n-caproic acid. All conditions will be kept the same in the reactors with the exception of the perturbations (i.e., hydrogen partial pressure changes and pH stress) that will be imposed on the system. Continuous time series monitoring of both reactor performance and microbial community structure (i.e., via high-throughput sequencing tools) will allow the stability of the system to be examined.

Expected Results:

Through the use of different statistical, visualization and modeling methods for this time series data, correlations can be explored between reactor performance and the microbial community structure. This will increase the understanding of the stability of the n-caproic acid production system in response to perturbations and allow researchers to see what microbial community characteristics contribute to reactor stability.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Currently, there is a need for further research and development of bioprocesses that can take organic wastes—such as food, yard and agricultural wastes—and convert them into useful fuels and chemicals. Use of waste for these purposes can circumvent the consumption of fossil fuels while reducing the amount of waste ending up in landfills. This research seeks to optimize a laboratory-scale process capable of converting organic wastes to a useful chemical, which will help to pave the way for industrial scale-up of this technology.

Supplemental Keywords:

bioinformatics, mixed culture, n-caproic acid

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final