Twenty years ago, the group worked primarily on two things:
The Enzymology of chitin conversion & Developing lactic acid bacteria as vaccine carriers
- The vaccine research has been ongoing for many years, involving a few researchers and many MSc students, and has in recent years been supported by two consecutive grants from the Norwegian GlobVac programme. This work is led by Ass Prof. Geir Mathiesen.
- The chitin work has drastically expanded in the past fifteen years, in part due to the discovery of a completely new enzyme activity that was first detected in our group in 2005 and that we described in detail in a landmark Science paper in 2010. These novel enzymes are today referred to as Lytic Polysaccharide Monooxygenases, or LPMOs. Since 2005, our enzyme work has been expanding to involve multiple industrial enzymes, including enzymes acting on proteins and, most importantly, enzymes acting on lignocellulosic biomass. The LPMOs caught, and are still catching, a lot of attention, since they are important for efficient bioprocessing of lignocelluosic biomass and since they are intriguing and abundant enzymes that likely have additional, hitherto undiscovered functions and whose catalytic function is only partly understood.
Today, we have a large portfolio of enzyme projects, varying from fundamental structure-function studies to applied projects focusing on bioprocess development. The main scientific driver in these projects is to unravel how Nature manages to break down highly recalcitrant materials such as shrimp shells, wood and straw. The main applied driver is the need for developing green technologies (i.e., enzyme- and fermentation-based) for valorizing of non-edible biomass, such as forest residues and straw, as well as chitin-rich materials such as shrimp shells.
In 2016 the more applied and bioprocess-oriented part of the PEP-group became an independent group led by Professor Svein Horn, called the Bioprocess Technology and Biorefining (BioRef) group. The BioRef and PEP groups regularly collaborate, for example within large projects such as Foods of Norway and Bio4Fuels.
During the past decade, we have developed multiple spin-off activities. Driven by Phil Pope, who joined the group in 2009, we have developed research in microbial ecology, in particular on biomass-processing microbial communities. Today, Phil leads his own group, the MEMO group (Microbial Ecology and Meta-Omics). While, today, both Phil and the MEMO group are formally based at another department, several MEMO members are located in the PEP group, especially those doing metaproteomics. There is a lot of collaboration.
Interestingly, -omics data indicate that chitinases, the first enzymes studied in our group, and LPMOs, discovered by our group in 2005/2010, both play a role in bacterial virulence. Thus, these enzymes putatively present totally new virulence factors and their study may lead to unravelling novel aspects of bacterial pathogenicity. These topics are pursued by Deputy Group leader Professor Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad and his team, who today are focusing on revealing alternative functions of enzymes originally thought only to be involved in biomass processing.
When it comes to advanced enzyme kinetics and biophysical studies of enzymes, we collaborate closely with Professor Morten Sørlie and researcher Åsmund Røhr Kjendseth in the Natural Product Chemistry and Organic Analysis group. Importantly, this collaboration will be central in the CUBE project, which is funded by an ERC Synergy grant that we received in 2019. In CUBE, which will run from 2020 to 2026, we aim at developing novel, LPMO-inspired catalysts.
As described above, the PEP group aims at combining high-level basic research with applied studies and innovation. Our main current funders are NMBU, The Research Council of Norway (NFR), The Novo-Nordisk Foundation, the Horizon 2020 program, Industry, and the ERC (Synergy grant).
For more information, see here: