Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer
Menu Search the University of Manchester siteSearch

Alternatively, use our A–Z index

Feed, fuel and heal the world

Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, talks us through how industrial biotechnology is improving the sustainability of the fuel we buy, the skincare we use and the medicines we take.

From beauty products to life-saving medicines, many of the products we consume every day are manufactured on an industrial scale. The production of the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and energy we rely upon can damage the environment – producing waste, draining non-renewable resources such as petroleum and creating greenhouse gas emissions.

Industrial biotechnology gives us a way to prepare for and respond to society's grand challenges. It allows us to use micro-organisms and enzymes to make bio-based products that perform better, are more easily recyclable and derived from renewable resources. It's revolutionising manufacturing processes so that products are economically viable, environmentally compatible and socially responsible.

In the home

Industrial biotechnology has developed many of the bio-based products we use in our homes today. Enzymes are used in biological washing detergents to remove stains at lower temperatures. In skincare products they help exfoliation and support the biological processes that have slowed down because of age or sun damage. Vital materials used in the textile industry – dyes, tanning agents, nylon and polyester – are all produced using biochemicals.

At The University of Manchester we've engineered bacterial strains to produce flavours and fragrances that are currently sourced from botanicals, some of which contain only minute levels of the target compounds. This could significantly enhance their market value. At the same time, it could also reduce the environmental impact associated with traditional chemical synthesis, or free up land for food production.

Industrial biotechnology's potential is unparalleled. It has the capacity to develop innovative products and processes that can help us to feed, fuel and heal the world.


Fill your car today and the fuel you buy will likely contain a small proportion of biofuel. Our experts are bringing commercial production of biofuels one step closer. In collaboration with Imperial College London and the University of Turku we made a significant breakthrough in the development and production of renewable propane, used in heating and transport. We've also formed a spinout, C3 Bio-Technologies, to bring bio-propane to the market more quickly. In a complementary project, Professor David Leys worked with Shell to provide a new, cleaner route to the production of alpha-olefins – crucial chemicals in a variety of industries.

Health care

In most of the developed world, health-care products are a fixture of our lives – but not everybody is so fortunate. By cutting the cost of pharmaceutical production, industrial biotechnology can help us to address global inequalities in places where access to modern, expensive treatments is a major issue.

The University is developing chemical alternatives to finite materials used as catalysts in the manufacture of many high-value products. One example is Professor Nicholas Turner's collaboration with BASF, which enabled the efficient and environmentally friendly production of organic chemical compounds used to make active pharmaceutical ingredients and fine chemicals to support industrial and academic drug discovery programmes. And Professor Andrew Munro worked with global science-based company, DSM to redesign an enzyme catalyst, enabling it to convert a natural product into the cholesterol-lowering drug pravastatin in a single step. This streamlined method now forms the basis of a patented process for the production of this drug.

Industrial biotechnology's potential is unparalleled. It has the capacity to develop innovative products and processes that can help us to feed, fuel and heal the world.

To find out more visit

Recent features