GE3LS – Framing New Bio-technologies to Aid Regulatory Decision-Making

Bioproducts and Enzymes from Environmental Metagenomes (BEEM) – Integrated GE3LS Research

GE3LS sub-project leader:  Douglas Reeve, University of Toronto

Project Summary
Today’s global economy is based upon the production of fossil fuels. But increasingly, as we grapple with the depth of the environmental footprint that the production and use of those fuels leaves, we are searching for sustainable alternatives. This project team, led by Drs. Elizabeth Edwards and David Major, plans to apply basic research knowledge and skills to develop microbial-based processes to transform, reuse, recycle and remediate contaminants and byproducts from common industrial and agricultural processes. Their goal is to contribute to the sustainability of the biorefineries of the future.

GE3LS research summary
The project team has had success in the commercialization of a microbial consortium, called KB-1™, which is the only such consortium so far to gain approval through Environment Canada’s New Substances Notification Regulations. Unfortunately, the development of KB-1™ is a rare example of a successful Canadian bioremediation project. Its development and approval required a decade-long effort, not only of genomics, microbiology and engineering, but also of discussion with government agencies.  The GE3LS research team is using its experience with KB-1™ as the basis for developing a framework for the integration of scientific research and public policy analysis.  Barriers to the entry of new bioproducts to the marketplace often come down to a lack of familiarity by end users, governments and regulators.

Working with these groups, the aim is to lower barriers to entry by generating a comprehensive plan for introducing new bioproducts.  The team is integrating scientific, economic and policy data in studies that aim to provide comparisons of new technologies with old to help decision-making by regulators, industrial users, and policy makers. Much of this work is being carried out in collaboration with a new programme in Engineering and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, whose mandate is to promote studies at the intersection of public policy and technology so that sound policy judgments can be made on the basis of well-developed and quantitative science.

The research team is approaching this study in the following ways:

  • First, the team will devise quantitative methods for assessing the environmental and resource impacts of new bioproducts compared to similar, petroleum-derived products;
  • Second, they will use these methods to assess the relative merits of the new biological products and processes developed in this research project;
  • Finally, they will model how sustainable bioproducts industries can be maintained by providing quantitative information on environmental-resource impacts and total production costs.