Frontiers of Science: Synthetic biology – powering bioeconomy


November 21, 2019    
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


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Prof. Merja Penttilä, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Espoo, Finland
Synthetic biology – powering bioeconomy

Host: Paula Mulo (

Merja Penttilä has been a key person in promotion of Finnish industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology research in VTT, which has belonged to the global leaders in industrial biotechnology already for decades, focusing on microbial cell factories and lignocellulose enzymology. Major part of the research has been carried out with eukaryotic species, yeasts and filamentous fungi. Synthetic biology, synbio, is a new, rapidly advancing scientific field, which is based on the design and construction of living cells as we humans want them to be. All functionality found in nature can be utilized to build cells with properties that are coded by synthetic genes. Synbio, supported by automation and robotics, will revolutionize industrial biology and enables design and construction of microbial cells that produce proteins, chemicals and bioplastics.

Merja Penttilä is a research professor in biotechnology at VTT, and an adjunct professor in synthetic biology at Aalto University. She has lead several industrial projects with Finnish and foreign companies, and several large research consortia, e.g. acting as Director of the large strategic opening project funded by Tekes “Living Factories: Synthetic Biology for a sustainable Bioeconomy” (2014-2017). (Avajaiset olivat 18.1.2019)

Selected publications
Lienemann M, TerAvest MA, Pitkänen JP, Stuns I, Penttilä M, Ajo-Franklin CM, Jäntti J. 2018 Towards patterned bioelectronics: facilitated immobilization of exoelectrogenic Escherichia coli with heterologous pili. Microb Biotechnol. 11(6):1184-1194.

Koivuranta K, Castillo S, Jouhten P, Ruohonen L, Penttilä M, Wiebe MG. 2018 Enhanced Triacylglycerol Production With Genetically Modified Trichosporon oleaginosus. Front Microbiol. 21;9:1337.

Rantasalo A, Landowski CP, Kuivanen J, Korppoo A, Reuter L, Koivistoinen O, Valkonen M, Penttilä M, Jäntti J, Mojzita D. 2018 A universal gene expression system for fungi. Nucleic Acids Res. 46(18):e111.

Rantasalo A, Kuivanen J, Penttilä M, Jäntti J, Mojzita D. 2018 Synthetic Toolkit for Complex Genetic Circuit Engineering in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. ACS Synth Biol. 7(6):1573-1587.

Kuivanen J, Holmström S, Lehtinen B, Penttilä M, Jäntti J. 2018 A High-throughput workflow for CRISPR/Cas9 mediated combinatorial promoter replacements and phenotype characterization in yeast. Biotechnol J. 5:e1700593

Salusjärvi L, Toivari M, Vehkomäki ML, Koivistoinen O, Mojzita D, Niemelä K, Penttilä M, Ruohonen L. 2017 Production of ethylene glycol or glycolic acid from D-xylose in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 101(22):8151-8163.