Genomics to Create Biopolymers from Tree Biomass

In a world that is requiring increasingly biological-based solutions to meet a growing need for sustainable materials, tree biomass remains one of the most abundant resources on earth. Ontario researchers are applying genomics technologies to create materials from underutilized tree biomass to replace those made from fossil fuels used in everyday products — such as resins, adhesives and food packaging. These innovations will create higher value bioproducts, reduce our carbon footprint, and develop new tools for effluent treatment and energy recovery.

While there is general appreciation of the potential of microbial enzymes in expanding the range of products made from tree biomass to date, biotechnology development has focused largely on the deconstruction of renewable biomass into sugars that can then be converted through fermentation to biofuels.

Drs. Emma Master of the University of Toronto and Harry Brumer of UBC are leading a team looking in the other direction. Their project SYNBIOMICS is distinguished from other projects by focusing on biocatalysts that upgrade (rather than degrade) tree biomass to create and replace materials made from fossil fuels used in everyday products, from adhesives to packaging. By upgrading biomass, Synbiomics aims to leverage the unique qualities of Canadian bioresources, which can open new opportunities for the Canadian forestry sector.

The project will also foster small and medium-sized enterprises that will work together synergistically with nearby pulp mills, creating lasting knowledge-based economic opportunities for Canada’s forestry sector and breathing new life into rural communities across Ontario.

Quick facts:
  • As part of this project, the research team is coordinating an iterative bioproducts development cycle with end-users to ensure sustainability.
  • The team is also developing economic ecosystem models for small and medium enterprises in the forestry sector.
  • Additionally, the project includes a research component to develop predictive tools for effluent treatment and energy recovery, thereby reducing both economic and environmental burdens for Ontario.

For more information about the SYNBIOMICS projects, please visit

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