PEP group
PEP groupPhoto: Tommy Normann, NMBU

The PEP-group works on production, engineering, characterization and application of proteins and enzymes, in various contexts, such as biomass processing, bacterial pathogenicity, microbial ecology and vaccine development.

About the PEP-group

We are a research group at NMBUs faculty of Chemistry, Biotechnology and Food Science. 

The group is led by group leader Professor Vincent Eijsink and deputy group leader Professor Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad.

  • 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.


    • Chitin
    • Lignocellulose
    • Fundamental enzyme studies and enzyme development
    • Applied enzymology
    • Microbial communities and enzyme discovery
    • Biorefining
    • Fermentation technologies
    • LAB-based vaccines
    • Bacterial virulence
    • Catalyst development

    Bioprocess Technology and Biorefining

    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.

    Microbial Ecology and Meta-Omics

    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.

    Bacterial pathogenicity, Chitinases and LPMOs

    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.

    Enzyme kinetics and biophysics 

    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).

    Some of our research is done in close collaboration with, or even led by, other groups at NMBU, particularly the Bioprocess Technology and Biorefining (BioRef) group headed by Professor Svein Horn and the MEMO group (Microbial Ecology and Meta-Omics) headed by Associate Professor Phil B. Pope.

    We also collaborate closely with Professor Morten Sørlie and researcher Åsmund Røhr Kjendseth in the Natural Product Chemistry and Organic Analysis group.

  • Twenty years ago, the PEP group worked primarily on two things:

    • 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.
    • and
    • The Enzymology of chitin conversion: 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. 

  • Current research activities include:

    • Structure-function studies of biomass-converting enzymes and their accessory proteins and domains.
    • Applied enzymology and bioprocessing for converting biomass to useful products.
    • Biomass-degrading microbial communities; enzyme discovery.
    • Gene expression systems, protein secretion and surface proteomics in lactic acid bacteria.
    • Discovery and characterization of novel bacterial virulence factors.
    • Development of nature-inspired novel catalysts

    Current projects, led by PEP:

    • SFI IB, Industrial biotechnology, is a research-based innovation centre comprised of 4 leading national research organisations, 14 Industry partners and one industry cluster. Together, the partners have leading infrastructure platforms and competence on key areas of national interest within Industrial Biotechnology. By joining these capacities in one national centre, we will secure a stronger orchestration of Norwegian R&D&I within the main Innovation domains the centre will focus on. The SFI has five innovation domains and eight research domains. The work is divided into seven sub-projects. Four cross cutting activities span the centre activity.  NMBU participates with two research groups at KBM, PEP and BioRef, and the BioSpec group at Realtek. NMBU's contribution is concentrated on the valorization of several types of biomass, through fermentation and / or enzyme technology. We work with the development of bioprocesses and with finding and developing useful enzymes that can be used in these processes. NMBU's biorefinery is important for our contribution. Two of SFI-IB's seven projects are led by NMBU by Vincent Eijsink & Svein Horn, Funded by NFR, Runs 2020-2028

    • FunAccess -  Leveraging the Mechanisms by which Fungi Increase Plant Cell Wall Accessibility to Unlock the Industrial Valorization Potential of Plant Biomass

      "In nature, penetration of the plant cell wall (PCW) is the important first step of plant colonization by fungi, irrespective of lifestyle. For that, fungi need to secrete small PCW-active proteins that can penetrate the pores of the PCW and reach key crosslinks that limit access to the PCW and its cellulose microfibrils in particular. These junction points also hinder biomass processability during enzymatic saccharification and cellulose fibrillation. In FunAccess, we will identify 1) small fungal proteins with predicted or unknown function that increase PCW accessibility and 2) crosslinks in PCWs that limit access to common PCW polysaccharides in native biomass and pulp samples. The ultimate goals are to describe the universal mechanisms fungi use to increase PCW accessibility, with focus on novel PCW-active protein systems, and to demonstrate the potential of these proteins for complete saccharification of biomass and production of nanocellulose beyond the state of the art". Aniko Varnai`s NNF Emerging Investigator Grant, Runs 2020-2025

    • DeNitro - Oxidative Polysaccharide Conversion in Anoxia by Denitrifying Organisms

      "Falling leaves and branches along the shoreline of nitrogen-rich lakes create a niche habitat for denitrifying microbes capable of degrading cellulose. This very same sort of habitat can be found in field denitrification beds, which are cellulose-containing water treatment basins used by Danish farmers to clear the surface water from excess fertilization, in particular nitrate. Within these habitats, cellulose degradation and denitrification occurs, but the underlying microbial interactions and enzymes at work remain unknown. I believe these habitats hold an untapped potential for powerful new cellulose-degrading enzyme systems. In this project, I will reveal the microbes and enzymes at play using a repertoire of state-of-the-art microbial techniques and provide novel insight into cellulose deconstruction in nitrate-rich habitats. This will lay the foundation for innovative bioprocessing strategies with enzyme systems that can utilize nitrate instead of oxygen as co-substrat". Magnus Arntzen`s NNF Emerging Investigator Grant, Runs 2020-2025

    • SmartPlast - Solving the plastic problem 

      Project leader Vincent Eijsink. Plastic is derived from fossil fuels, is difficult to recycle (even in a society with effective waste collection systems), degrades slowly in nature (if at all), and has a tendency to convert to increasingly smaller particles (microplastics) that cause problems for living systems. Solving the “plastic problem” is a huge task that requires a wide multi-disciplinary action that a University such as NMBU alone cannot muster. Still, NMBU can contribute by building on recent developments in the field and in its own competence. Besides, NMBU already has ongoing activities that touch upon the plastic problem but that, so far, have remained invisible in a “plastic context”. Runs from 2021-2024. This project is a part of NMBUs Sustainability Arenas 2021- 2024

    • Enzyclic - Unlocking the potential of enzymatic recycling of plastics

      Project leader Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad. In this project we will develop new enzyme technology for degradation and recirculation. Unlocking the potential of enzymatic recycling of plastics. In parallel our partner Norner will develop new plastic polymers that are designed for enzymatic dergradation, but that maintain their functional properties. An important part of the project will be to establish an open dialogue with relevant industry, policy makers and other stakeholders to discuss the potential of the technology and how it can be implemented in society. This dialog will be supported by barrier and life cycle analyses performed by our partner Bellona. Additional project partners are the Circular Packaging Cluster and Aclima. Funded by NFR, Runs 2021-2025

    • 3D-omics” - Three-dimensional holo’omic landscapes to unveil host-microbiota interactions shaping animal production.

      WP Leader Phillip Pope. In 3D’omics we will develop, optimise and, for the first time, implement this technology in animal production to generate the so-called 3D’omic landscapes, the most accurate reconstructions of intestinal host-microbiota ecosystems ever achieved. Funded by Horizon 2020. Runs 2021-2025

    • CUBE – “Unravelling the secrets of Cu-based catalysts for C-H activation”

      In this ERC-Synergy project PEP will collaborate with experts in synthetic catalysts (zeolites, metal-organic-frameworks), spectroscopy, computational & theoretical chemistry and a wide variety of biophysical methods. The aim is to develop novel enzyme-inspired synthetic catalysts and novel synthetic catalyst-inspired enzymes. The catalytic power of LPMOs is a major inspiration for this work. Next to PEP, the team comprises groups headed by Prof Unni Olsbye (Oslo; project coordinator), Prof. Silvia Bordiga (Turin) and Prof. Serena DeBeer (Muelheim and der Ruhr). Read more here (scroll down on the page to “Cleaner chemical conversions”). Runs 2020-2026.

    • FunEnzFibres - “From fundamentals to valorization: Enzymatic oxidation of cellulosic fibres and underlying mechanisms”

      Local project leader Aniko Varnai and Vincent Eijsink. In this ERA-Net project we will explore novel mechano-enzymatic modifications on cellulose and cellulosic fibres using LPMOs and selected hydrolases for development of high-value products in the forest industry. We will examine the possibilities of LPMOs to open, rearrange and modify structurally different celluloses in combination with existing knowledge in enzymatic fibre refining, and investigate functionalization of cellulosic fibres with new reactive chemical groups. Partners: VTT, Finland (Kaisa Marjamaa & Kristiina Kruus; project coordinator); BOKU Austria (Antje Potthast); Industrial partners;Borregaard, MetsäFibre, UPM-Kymmene Corporation, Essity GHC R&D Tissue, Acticell GmbH, and Novozymes.Runs 2019 – 2023 

    • Delignobact - Degradation of Lignin by Bacteria

      Young Research Talent grant from NFR to Tina Rise Tuveng, The project aims at identifying bacterial enzymes that are able to degrade lignin. Runs 2021-2025

    • Modularity as a tool to harness the power of redox enzyme systems in polysaccharide conversion"

      Personal post-doc fellowship from the Novo Nordisk Foundation to Zarah Forsberg. Key topic: structure function studies of multi-modular LPMOs. Runs 2019 – 2022.

    • SeaCow – “Promoting efficient, low emitting cows through manipulation of the rumen microbiome"

      Young Research Talent grant from NFR to Live Heldal Hagen. In this project, Live will explore how seaweed-based nutritional manipulation strategies affect enteric methane production, microbiome-host interactions and microbiome metabolism. By decrypting relationships between diets, animal performance and microbiome metabolism, it should eventually become possible to improve animal performance and reduce methane emission by rational nutritional manipulation. Runs 2020 – 2024.

    • PRODIGIO - Developing early-warning systems for improved microalgae PROduction an anarobic DIGestIOn

      Project leader: Magnus Øverlie Arntzen.  PRODIGIO will boost the efficiency of solar energy conversion into biogas by increasing the performance of Microalgae production systems & Anaerobic digestion systems. Thanks to the development of early-warning signals for improved systems monitoring and control. Runs from 2021-2023 

    • OXYMOD - "Optimized oxidative enzyme systems for efficient conversion of lignocellulose to valuable products”

      Project leader Vincent Eijsink. In this project, which is part of the Center for Digital Life Norway funded by NFR-BIOTEK, we will use a transdisciplinary approach to study redox enzyme systems involved in biomass processing, with the eventual goal of developing better enzymes and enzyme systems and better bioprocessing strategies; read more here. Runs 2017-2022.