Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schwaneberg is the Chair of the Institute of Biotechnology at RWTH Aachen and is a member of the scientific board of directors at the DWI-Leibniz-Institute for Interactive Materials. The expertise of the Schwaneberg group lies in protein engineering by directed evolution and rational design. Directed evolution methodologies were awarded with the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2018 and the Schwaneberg group plays a leading role worldwide in the field of directed evolution (ranked 3rd in respect to published manuscripts; Web of Science; search term “directed evolution”).
Research is organized in 5 divisions with different expertises with the general goal to advance directed evolution methodologies to discover fundamental design principles of proteins, and to perform translational research within the areas of interactive materials (focus on plant health, medicine), biocatalysis, and circular bioeconomy. Developed protein engineering strategies such as KnowVolution are used to combine computational and experimental efforts and thereby to ensure efficient protein design with minimal experimental efforts and a molecular understanding of improved properties.
The Schwaneberg group
The 2018 Schwaneberg group
Hybrid Catalysis and High Throughput ScreeningCopyright: © Bio VI
The work on biohybrid catalysis within the division is focused on applying the institute’s core competence in protein engineering and directed evolution to this interdisciplinary field. Building on extensive experience with the engineering of beta-barrel proteins, scaffolds for the incorporation of metal catalysts can be generated. By doing so, new chemical reactivity and selectivity can be unlocked, and further tuned via directed evolution campaigns. Situated at the interface of chemistry and biotechnology, biohybrid catalysis is garnering increased attention within the research community, especially due to the potential to biocompatibly perform biorthogonal reactions in vivo.
A further aim of the Hybrid Catalysis and High Throughput Screening division is the development of high throughput screening systems and platforms that are designed for screening of a maximum of generated protein variants. This redefines the screening step of Directed Evolution and eliminates its primary limitation. The focus of the division is set upon the creation of (in vivo and in vitro) flow cytometric screening systems in artificial compartments. These systems are capable of drastically increasing the iterative rounds per Directed Evolution campaign.
Biohybrid SystemsCopyright: © Bio VI
The Biohybrid Systems division develops and optimizes proteins, enzymes and peptides for the application in biohybrid materials with tailored characteristics and functionalities. The key technology platform consists of more than 60 peptides that bind to a plethora of natural and synthetic surfaces (i.e. plastics or plant surfaces) – the so called “anchor peptides”. Through simulation studies and Directed Evolution, our team can quickly modify these short peptides (30 – 100 amino acids).
Hence, we can tailor their interactions with a large variety of materials and to develop responsive hybrid materials. Among others, anchor peptides can functionalize textiles or connect fertilisers, pesticides or antimycotic peptides that are stored in microgel containers to plant leaves
Further research activities of our team encompass biopolymer synthesis, polymer functionalization, polymer conjugation and polymer decomposition, i.e. of plastics such as PE, PP and PET which are an increasing problem in the environment.
The Biohybrid Systems division comprises an interdisciplinary team that serves as a contact for textile chemists, polymer chemists and chemical engineers at the DWI alike. Our fermentation equipment in the DWI-Biotechnikum enables us to ferment in a scale up to 100l.
Molecular BioeconomyCopyright: © Bio VI
The Molecular Bioeconomy division lead by Dr. Anna Joëlle Ruff optimizes enzymes for bioeconomy purposes and develops methods to generate improved variants for the synthesis of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. We are experts in the development of methods that improve diversity generation, which is a limiting step in Directed Evolution.
Our very own KnowVolution strategy minimizes the time and effort spent for screening in Directed Evolution campaigns. So far, we have successfully applied this strategy to a number of protein evolution campaigns that provided enzymes for diabetes diagnosis, laundry detergents and animal feed supplements.
Further enzyme classes that we succeeded to improve comprise oxidoreductases, oxidases, lipases, proteases, glycosyl transferases, cutinases and dioxygenases. With the help of monooxygenases, we developed a whole cell ultra highthroughput screening platform for the improvement of enzyme solvent tolerance, selectivity inversion and substrate spectrum extension. Beyond this, we also attempt to retrieve phosphate from a wide array of biological materials, i.e. sugar bead debris and rape seeds.
The Molecular Bioeconomy division consists of an interdisciplinary team of molecular biologists, biochemists, biotechnologists, chemists and process engineers and closely cooperates with bioeconomists.
For further information about our work in the field of bioeconomy, please follow the link to our division website.
Next Generation BiocatalysisCopyright: © Bio VI
The division Next Generation Biocatalysis, short for NGBC, aims to develop new enzymatic reactions or reaction cascades, methods and technologies to overcome the limitations of aqueous biotransformations, and the implementation of engineered biocatalysts in microbial chassis to enable biosynthesis routes towards valuable plant secondary metabolites. A key aspect of our research is the development of new or the improvement of established stereoselective biotransformations. Thereby, environmentally friendly and energy-efficient synthesis routes are established to eventually overcome the dependencies of carbon compound production on petrochemistry.
To meet this objective, our research combines the cross-cutting topics of directed enzyme evolution, bio-(hybrid) catalysis, organometallic chemistry, and polymer science. Our methods nicely tie, and seek to further enhance, technological platforms brought forth by the Schwaneberg group. The interdisciplinary approach pursued by the NGBC unit harnesses the expertise of trained molecular and synthetic biologists, material scientists, and chemists. The NGBC division is headed by Dr. Johannes Schiffels.
If you want to know more about our work, please feel free to visit our team website.
Computational BiotechnologyCopyright: © Bio VI
The Computational Biology Division headed by Dr. Mehdi Davari specializes on the rational design of proteins, the analysis of enzyme variants. The group attempts to identify the fundamental principles of protein engineering by analysing the evolution campaigns of all other divisions of the Schwaneberg group with computer-based studies.
To achieve this, our group uses cutting edge molecule dynamic simulations and develops docking methods and QM/MM (Multilayer-Quantuum Mechanic & Molecule Mechanic) methods. We are using High End Graphics Workstations, a LINUX simulation cluster and – as a member of the JARA HPC institute – has access to the RWTH High Performance Center as well as to the Jülich Supercomputer Center.
The Computational Biology division is especially interested in the molecular bases of protein stability, activity, selectivity and solvent tolerance. Moreover, we investigate material interactions of proteins and hybrid catalysts. Our group also produces focused libraries for recombining beneficial positions in proteins for semi-rational protein engineering and in-silico design of enzymes and proteins in functional biohybrid materials.
If you share our interest into what makes a protein “tick”, please feel free to visit our division website .
AdministrationCopyright: © Bio VI
The administration team of the Chair of Biotechnology is the grease in the gears of the Schwaneberg group. It serves as a contact point for students, scientists, industry and the wider public alike.
In parallel to the day-to-day administration tasks, i.e. personnel/financial affairs and the organization of everything that ensurses an effective working environment (i.e. facility, purchasing, compliance with legal regulations), the admin team also takes over a number of further tasks.
Our members are involved in patent affairs, uphold or create contacts to academia and industry all over the world or assist in grant capture and contract research.
And yet we do not mind also cooking the odd cup of coffee. So,in case you do have a request or question, please do not hesitate to contact the admin team!