I obtained my BSc degree in Chemistry (1987), followed by a Licentiate Degree in Biochemical Sciences (1989) and a PhD in Biochemical Sciences (1994) from the University of La Plata (Argentina). I was appointed Associate Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Quilmes (Argentina) in 1994, and Research Fellow at the Microbial Physiology Group at the University of Amsterdam from 1995 to 1999. I was appointed Lecturer in Microbial Physiology at the University of Surrey (2000), Senior Lecturer in Microbial Systems Biology (2006) and Reader in Systems Microbiology (2012).
Areas of specialism
University roles and responsibilities
- Examination Officer Level 6
- Academic Integrity Officer
- Admissions Tutor MSc Medical Microbiology
Affiliations and memberships
In the media
My research interests are in the field of Quantitative Microbial Physiology, Metabolic Modelling and Metabolic Engineering, with the goal of rationally improving the capability of microorganisms for the production of compounds of medical and industrial interest.
- In silico analysis of metabolic networks for the prediction of metabolic capabilities
- Metabolic modelling and quantitative physiology of microorganisms for the production of bioactive molecules
- Metabolic Engineering of microorganisms for the improvement of biosynthetic activities.
The projects combine genomic data, metabolic network modeling, metabolic flux analysis and fermentation technology to design better strategies for antibiotic production, either by the targeted manipulation of specific metabolic pathways or by the modification of the production bioprocess.
Part of my research is directed to the study of the mechanisms involved in the development and evolution of microbial consortia involved in natural or artificial biological processes. In particular, I am interested in the use of electrogenic microbial communities in bioelectrochemical systems: Microbial fuel cells (MFCs), where micro-organisms in the anodic compartment of a fuel cell produce electricity from organic materials, and Microbial Electrosynthesis Cells (MECs), where an electric current is applied to the system to steer microbial metabolism towards the production of molecules of interest.
Within this area of research, I am interested in the utilisation of microbial communities for the treatment and conversion of agriwaste and wastewater, and the development of clean bioprocesses.
Current grants and funding
- Coupling of photocatalysis and biodegradation for emerging contaminant removal from water effluents and renewable energy generation. Newton Mosharafa / British Council. PI
- GREENER - InteGRated systems for Effective ENvironmEntal Remediation. EU - Horizon 2020. PI in Surrey
- Evaluation of the bioelectrochemical performance of a native microbial community for waste degradation and energy recovery from industrial coffee waste in a low cost microbial fuel cell. Newton Prize. PI.
- Synthetic Biology for Biotechnology and Bioenergy. International Partnering Award BBSRC. PI.
- Metabolic analysis of the solventogenic bacterium Clostridium saccharoperbutylacetonicum. BBSRC iCASE. PI
- Constructing a microbial community for increasing wheat crop yield using system approaches. BBSRC iCASE.Co-I
- Metabolic analysis to characterise and optimize an industrial enzyme production process. BBSRC iCASE. PI
- A bioelectrochemical system for waste degradation and energy recovery from coffee waste. Newton Fund and University of Antioquia, Colombia. PI
- Metabolic Modelling Meets Anaerobic Digestion (M3AD), BBSRC NIBB ADNet. PI.
- Bio-ESPRESSO. Bio-Electrochemical Systems for PRoduct and Energy Salvage from Spent cOffee - EPSRC University of Surrey GCRF initiative. PI.
- Electroautotrophic bacteria as chassis for electrofermentation of C1 gas. BBSRC NIBB C1Net. PI
Current wastewater treatment technologies are efficient at removing most organic contaminants, but consume significant amounts of energy (~1.2 kWh m-3), which makes it an expensive process. Theoretically, the wastewater organic content is sufficient to generate approximately 4 times more energy than is required for wastewater treatment. Thus, it could be possible to minimize energy consumption through capturing part of the energy contained in organic waste streams. A nascent technology to extract energy and value- added chemicals in organic waste streams is the “microbial electrochemical cell” (MXC), a platform technology able to recover energy as electrical current and H2, based on the ability of anode-respiring bacteria (ARB) to oxidize organic matter internally and transfer the resulting electrons to a solid electron acceptor (the anode).
We propose to couple photocatalysis and biodegradation by developing a microbial electrochemical cell (ICPB-MXC) combining visible-light-adsorbing photocatalysts and anode- respiring bacteria to accelerate the degradation of recalcitrant organic compounds while recovering electrical current and hydrogen.
The overarching goal of this collaborative project is to develop an advanced engineered platform combining chemical, visible-light- induced photocatalysis and biodegradation, to accelerate the degradation of recalcitrant organic compounds in wastewater while recovering electrical current and H2.
GREENER is a multi-disciplinary project, involving 15 EU universities, research institutes and SMEs and 5 academic and scientific partners from China, to address the Horizon 2020 topic CE-BIOTEC-04-2018: New biotechnologies for environmental remediation.
GREENER proposes the development of green, sustainable, efficient, and low-cost solutions for soil/sediment and water bioremediation that, by integrating several remediation strategies with innovative bio-electrochemical technologies, will effectively accelerate the remediation time of a range of organic and inorganic pollutants of high concern, while producing end-products of interests, such as bioelectricity and/or harmless metabolites of industrial interest. To achieve such an ambitious goal, organisms with high bioremediation ability will be identified and isolated, the influence of physico-chemical factors on the effectiveness of treatment will be evaluated and proof-of-concept experiments to define optimal integrated solutions at the lab-scale will be performed. Finally, a combination of the most promising technologies will be up-scaled and tested on field. Life cycle analyses will demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of the solutions suggested.
Increasing chemical pollution seriously compromises the health of ecosystems and humans worldwide. Hazardous compounds, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals and emerging pollutants contaminate soils/sediments, ground and surface waters. To prevent/minimise the risks associated with the accumulations of these chemicals in the environment it is key to establish low-cost/green methodologies for the treatment and redevelopment of contaminated areas. Several physico-chemical methods have been explored to remove pollutants in the environment, but these are complex, energy consuming or expensive. The exploitation of the capability of bacteria, fungi and phototrophs to transform toxic contaminants into harmless end-products, can lead instead to cheap and sustainable bioremediation alternatives. GREENER proposes the development of innovative, efficient and low-cost hybrid solutions that integrate bioremediation technologies with bio-electrochemical systems (BES). BES, such as microbial fuel cells, break down organic contaminants through the action of electroactive bacteria while generating electrical current. We will investigate the synergetic effect of different bioremediation strategies and demonstrate effective pollutants removal in water and soil/sediments, while generating side products of interest, such as bioelectricity. The type and entity of contamination, along with the specific physico-chemical/microbial characteristics of the environment to be depolluted, will feed into a decision-making toolbox. The latter will allow the establishment of ad hoc integrated solutions, which will take into account effectiveness of biodegradation, costs, environmental risks and social aspects. Fundamental research will be performed at lab-scale, while pilot-tests will be used to proof the scaling-up feasibility for field applications. Environmental benefits and risks, compared to standard remediation approaches, including energy efficiency, will be investigated.
Production of bioelectricity from organic matter has shown great potential as an opportunity to reduce the inefficient disposal and accumulation of organic waste. Despite significant advances in MFCs, further research is required to enhance their performance.
This project will focus on evaluation of bioelectrochemical performance of a native microbial community for waste degradation and energy recovery from industrial coffee waste in a low cost microbial fuel cell. With the design and construction of a low cost microbial fuel cell (MFC) useful in the treatment of agroindustrial coffee waste and the establishment of a native microbial community with high degradation capability for agroindustrial coffee waste. We intend to show great potential to reduce the inefficient disposal and accumulation of organic waste.
The intended result of the project is the development of prototype of an operational microbial fuel cell (MFC) to be used on agro industrial coffee waste. It will be built considering economic and environmental sustainability and its potential application in coffee production farms. We intend to identify a suitable microbial/microorganism strain with high degradation capability of solid-liquid residues and generation of bioelectricity. Additionally, we also intend to define the best operational conditions and performance parameters for a best degradation of these agro industrial residues while generating energy at the same time.
Indicators of esteem
- UKRI - GCRF Panel Member
- UKRI - BBSRC Member of BBSRC Pool of Experts
- Member, Scientific Committee of the Network of Argentine Scientists in the United Kingdom (Red de Científicos Argentinos en el Reino Unido)
Biomedical Microbial Products (BMS3060)
Systems Biology (BMS3072)
Microbial Communities and Interactions (BMS2044)
Introduction to the Microbial World (BMS1035)
New article published:
Alfonso-Muniozguren et al (2020) Tertiary treatment of real abattoir wastewater using combined acoustic cavitation and ozonation
Ultrasonics Sonochemistry 64, June 2020, 104986
Paper of the year 2018 - The article by Toro Navarro et al has been awarded the Paper of the Year Award by the journal Biosystems and Bioprocess Engineering (Springer)
- P. Alfonso-Muniozguren et al (2020) Tertiary treatment of real abattoir wastewater using combined acoustic cavitation and ozonation. Ultrasonics Sonochemistry 64, June 2020, 104986. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ultsonch.2020.104986
- Chen et al (2019). Electron communication of Bacillus subtilis in harsh environments. iScience 12, 260–269. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2019.01.020
- Toro Navarro et al (2018). An enhanced genome-scale metabolic reconstruction of Streptomyces clavuligerus identifies novel strain improvement strategies. Bioproc. Biosys. Eng. 41:657–669. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00449-018-1900-9
- Pinilla et al (2018). Streptomyces clavuligerus strain selection for clavulanic acid biosynthesis: a study based on culture composition effects and statistical analysis. Dyna 85:111-118. doi: 10.15446/dyna.v85n205.69560.
- Naz et al. (2018). Investigation of the active biofilm communities on polypropylene filter media in a fixed biofilm reactor for wastewater treatment. J. Chem. Technol. Biotechnol. doi 10.1002/jctb.5686
- Menendez-Bravo et al (2017) Identification of FadAB Complexes Involved in Fatty Acid β-Oxidation in Streptomyces coelicolor and Construction of a Triacylglycerol Overproducing strain. Front. Microbiol. 8:1428. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01428
- Hodgson et al (2016) Segregation of the Anodic Microbial Communities in a Microbial Fuel Cell Cascade. Front. Microbiol. 7, 699.
- Kim et al (2016) Properties of alternative microbial hosts used in Synthetic Biology: Towards the design of a modular chassis. Essays Biochem 60, 303–313
- Nez et al (2016). Effect of the Chemical Composition of Filter Media on the Microbial Community in Wastewater Biofilms at Different Temperatures. RSC Adv. 6, 104345 - 104353
- Grüning et al (2015). Low-potential respirators support electricity production in Microbial Fuel Cells. Microbial Ecol. 70, 266–273
- Stratford et al (2014). Anodic microbial community diversity as a predictor of the power output of microbial fuel cells. Biores. Technol. 156, 84–91.
- Avignone Rossa et al (2013) Systems Biology of antibiotic production in Streptomyces. In: Dubitzky, Wolkenhauer, Cho, Yokota (Eds). Encyclopedia of Systems Biology. Springer, Heidelberg. ISBN 978-1-4419-9862-0
- Beecroft et al (2012). Dynamic changes in the microbial community composition in microbial fuel cells fed with sucrose. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 93, 423 – 437.
- Kim et al (2011). Spatiotemporal development of the bacterial community in a tubular longitudinal microbial fuel cell. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 90, 1179 – 1191.
- Wu et al (2011). A role for microbial palladium nanoparticles in extracellular electron transfer. Angew Chem Int Ed 50, 427 – 430.
- Gevorgyan et al (2011). SurreyFBA: a command line tool and graphics user interface for constraint-based modeling of genome-scale metabolic reaction networks. Bioinformatics 27(3), 433 – 434.
- Sroka et al (2011). Acorn: a grid computing system for constraint based modeling and visualization of the genome scale metabolic reaction networks via a web interface. BMC Bioinformatics. 12, 196.
- Ahmed et al (2011). Metabolomic Profiling Can Differentiate Between Bactericidal Effects of Free and Polymer Bound Halogen. J Appl Polym Sci, 119, 709 – 718.
- Wu et al (2009). A one-compartment fructose/air biological fuel cell based on direct electron transfer. Biosens Bioelectron 25, 326 – 331
- Wu et al (2009). Direct electron transfer of glucose oxidase immobilized in an ionic liquid reconstituted cellulose-carbon nanotube matrix, Bioelectrochem 77, 64 – 68
- Zhao et al (2008). Factors affecting the performance of microbial fuel cells for sulfur pollutants removal. Biosens Bioelectr 24, 1931–1936
- Efthimiou et al (2008). A novel finding that Streptomyces clavuligerus can produce the antibiotic clavulanic acid using olive oil as a sole carbon source. J Appl Microbiol, 105, 2058-2064.
- Khannapho et al (2008). Selection of objective function in genome scale flux balance analysis for process feed development in antibiotic production. Metabolic Eng 10, 227 – 233
- Zhao et al (2008). Activated Carbon Cloth as Anode for Sulfate Removal in a Microbial Fuel Cell. Environ Sci Technol 42, 4971 – 4976