Start-up of the Week: The magical veggie garden of tomorrow

.”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

 

Vienna Textile Lab – Colorful microbial microfibres

Giving clothes a bit of color has been done for thousands of years. Dyes from nature has been used for this ever since prehistoric times. Yet these had their limitations and that meant that certain colours were very difficult to come by. Purple is a good example. Have you ever noticed that this colour can’t be found on any country’s national flag? That”s because purple dyes used to be very expensive. Synthetic dyes came on the market in the 19th century and solved that problem.

Vienna Textile Lab is really going to where it originally all started – back to nature. Another discovery was made in the 19th century: the existence of bacteria. These microorganisms can be an organic and sustainable method for dyeing textiles. The disadvantage of synthetic substances is that they are bad for your health and the environment. And the beauty of this Austrian textile dye is that it is based on an entirely organic process.

Energy Floor – Streets made of solar cells

This Rotterdam team came up with a groundbreaking innovation in 2010. A sustainable dance floor that could generate its own energy using the kinetic energy of dancing partygoers. They collaborated with artist Daan Roosengaarde and this resulted in a luminescent interactive floor. This was world news at the time and the floor was actually in place.

The principles behind this dance floor are still very much alive ten years later; it’ s just morphed into a street tile now. The kinetic energy has been replaced by solar energy, so that anywhere where there are streets, small power stations can be installed. Which means charging stations for electric cars might no longer be necessary. The Energy Floor also monitors traffic flow so that everyone can see exactly where there is available parking space. Any other advantages? A lot of street lighting is switched on when nobody is around. Such a waste! Lastly, it just looks really cool.

Revibe – Electricity out of thin air

On railways, construction sites and in heavy industry, colossuses of machines are in constant motion. These movements cause friction and friction equals energy. However, this energy is still being completely wasted at the moment, even though it could also be used to generate electricity. This is the main starting point underlying the Swedish start-up Revibe. They have developed a compact module that serves as a kind of mini-generator for where there is a lot of kinetic energy present.

The advantages are obvious. Equipment that uses this start-up’s technology no longer need a battery or a power cable! And on top of that, it might be the cleanest form of electricity generation ever. The patented battery is very easy to mount on a vibrating surface and then goes ahead and does the job all by itself. And not insignificantly, the electricity can even be stored so that you can use it to do things like make coffee or something similar.

Spaceflow – The e-VVE and landlord

Homeowners’ associations usually have a rather old-fashioned baby-boomer image. Tenants’ contact with their neighbours or with the manager of an apartment complex tends to happen on an inefficient and decentralised basis. This ought to change; that’s what they thought at the Czech start-up Spaceflow. They developed an app specifically for tenants of residential complexes that was designed to take over all communication concerning residential and communal areas. Think of it as a kind of Facebook, but only meant for people who are part of your building complex.

Through the app you can get in touch with neighbours, request repairs, read service announcements and give feedback. There is no need either for separate keys for the communal areas. The app can also be configured for specific situations in a modular way for property managers.

In theory, the app could even replace your house key. So if you lose your phone, you’ll immediately lose your house key as well. Want to make it even more disastrous? In the event you pay for everything via Apple Pay, you would strike out three times in a row then.

Grow X – Vertically grown top quality vegetables

Human beings have been growing crops horizontally for some 7,000 years now. And as this past century has seen us all of a sudden doing just about EVERYTHING differently, we’re also now seeing a trend with vertical gardens and fields. Why vertical? It’s a bit of the same principle behind skyscrapers; they take up less space and are efficient. Vertical gardens have been around for some time already, but now there are also vertical vegetable gardens. Grow X is an example: they grow high-end vegetables for the more luxurious segment of the market.

Fresh vegetables that are grown in their own region are of great importance to the best restaurants. This is what distinguishes them from the hospitality industry where imported or canned vegetables are on the menu. Entrepreneurs can choose from around fifty organically grown mini vegetables offered by Grow X. The advantage of these mini varieties is that their taste is more concentrated than conventional varieties. Grow X is nowadays a regular supplier to the leading Dutch restaurants.

The fact that the Netherlands is internationally known as a major innovator in the horticultural sector has been confirmed once again by this start-up. It is even not commonly known in The Netherlands that our small country is the second largest food producer in the whole world. And this is not per square metre or per capita. No, this is in absolute numbers. Innovation and efficiency are the magic words here and Grow X is an excellent example of this. It is such an excellent example that we have crowned this ambitious start-up from Zeeland Start-up of the Week!

Start-up of the Day: Vienna Textile Lab dyes fabrics with bacteria

Bakterien, Textilfarben, Vienna Textile Lab

“Bacteria are the most intelligent, environmentally friendly and resource-efficient way to produce textile dyes,” says Karin Fleck, founder of Vienna Textile Lab. “Bacteria occur in nature, can be stored as a strain in laboratories and propagated at any time. They synthesize colors in a natural way”.

Karin studied technical chemistry at TU Wien in Austria. For many years she had various managerial positions at several energy companies such as Vattenfall Energy Trading in The Netherlands and in Germany. When she met Cecilia Raspanti (who had founded the company Textile Lab Amsterdam), she became inspired to use bacteria to make textile dyes. Cecilia had already tried this herself, but without much success. “It is not so much about the challenge of using bacteria as a raw material. More than anything, you actually need a lot of know-how and understanding of scientific methods. You then also have to go about it very carefully. There could potentially be germs among them,” Karin explains.

She had already been working with dyes when she was graduating. But the whole sector was new to her in principle. That’s why she sought support via:

  • Fritsch, a textile dye company in Vienna, which specializes in environmentally friendly dyes;
  • Erich Schopf, a bacteriographer from Vienna, who makes paintings using bacteria;
  • the Institute of Applied Synthesis Chemistry at TU Wien.

Microorganisms tend to produce microbial dyes in response to altered growth conditions. They protect cells from external influences such as salt or temperature stress, light or intense competition. These substances often also have an anti-bacterial effect. Bacteria-based textile dyes have the same properties as conventional synthetic dyes when used on a daily basis.

Karin Fleck elaborates further:

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab
Karin Fleck, Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

What solution does this bacterial-based textile dye offer and why is that important?

It is an alternative to synthetic dyes, which to a large degree have a detrimental effect on health and the environment. But also particularly for people in the textile industry who are constantly in contact with these dyes. Furthermore, everyone wears clothes and is therefore exposed to the chemicals that they contain. These dyes are currently under critical examination throughout the world. The EU has guidelines on synthetic dyes too. Dyes are banned on a regular basis or their use is restricted. This creates more room for new, innovative dyes. But especially for new production systems which do not rely on crude oil.

What has been the biggest obstacle that had to be overcome?

Our limited ability to hire people. The Austrian labor market is geared towards permanent jobs and employee security. Yet the world of start-ups is unpredictable. Above all, people are needed on a project basis in order to be able to cope with any peaks. You need to be able to react flexibly to the circumstances when you’re a young company who has growth spurts.

What has been a high point so far? What are you particularly proud of?

There have been many wonderful moments. Such as winning prizes. When we first started out, we already won 3rd place at the Climate Launchpad. This year we won the BOKU Start-up Prize from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. All the invitations we’ve received have also been very encouraging. For example, for the TEDxCanggu in Bali or for a pitch at CLIX , part of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

It’s also great to see how people, customers and organizations from all over the world know how to find us. We talk to people from the US, Indonesia, Sweden, Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany and so on. For instance, I came in contact with Material Connexion in New York. This is a collection of some of the most diverse, innovative materials for industry, local tradespeople, artists and designers. Samples from Vienna Textile Lab have now also been included in their collection.

We derive the most pleasure from everyone who supports us. People who let us know that they appreciate how good our bacteria-based textile dyes are. The experts who really help us out when we can’t figure something out right at that moment. But also local organizations that believe in our success. These include the Vienna Impact Hub or the TCBL, Textile clothing and business labs.

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab,
Bacteria are applied directly onto the fabric, where they multiply and develop a pattern. Karin Fleck, Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

How is everything going at the Vienna branch?

Fine. We can have confidence in the structures and systems. We have had many rewarding and supportive experiences involving funding agencies and universities. There are people here who are promoting us, even when they don’t know us personally. I can’t judge whether things are any better anywhere else. But I know that there is more money available for the biotech sector in Germany and the US.

Where will the start-up be in five years’ time?

By then we will have elevated our manufacturing method to an industrial level. We will have a customer base that will facilitate further growth, and perhaps we’ll be expanding on a global scale.

What distinguishes Vienna Textile Lab from similar companies?

We have opted for solid partners. This in turn makes us stronger and more competent. Aside from that, we want to remain transparent and have discussions with all potential customers or partners. Not only with large corporations, but also with niche companies, artists and designers. That may well make it more complicated, but that makes it all the better as well. We learn a lot through this kind of interaction and are therefore able to position and develop our products much more effectively. Last but not least, we have an extremely wide variety of our most important employees: bacteria.

Bakterien, Textilfarbe, Vienna Textile Lab
Bacteria are capable of producing a large proportion of the colors in the color palette. Nevertheless, some colors are problematic and need to be mixed. Vienna Textile Lab (c) Michael Fraller

Read more articles about start-ups here.

 

 

Are “Overfed Bacteria” to Blame for Civilization Diseases?

Bakterien

Diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases are increasing dramatically worldwide, but the reason for this increase remains largely unexplained. Researchers at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel have now investigated the cause of this problem in a study and assume on the basis of the results, that an “overfeeding” disturbs the colonization of bacteria in the intestines and is thus responsible for numerous civilization-caused diseases.

In the past, fasting due to lack of food and infections that caused diarrhea would have led the intestinal bacteria community back to their “human-specific baseline” from time to time, the researchers explain. However, these natural cleansing mechanisms have been practically eradicated in industrialized countries, which enables the continuous uncontrolled growth of bacteria. This in turn leads to an increase in bacterial products that stimulate the immune system and can ultimately trigger inflammatory reactions.

bakterien
© Pixabay

Bacteria Are Not the Same As Bacteria

Until not so long ago, bacteria were regarded as harmful and as pathogens that had to be destroyed in order to defeat the respective diseases. However, it is now clear that certain bacteria are essential for human health. This is especially true for bacteria in the intestine. A disturbed intestinal flora – which cannot least be caused by excessive hygiene, antibiotics or a wrong diet – can lead to civilization-caused diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

A team of researchers from the Metaorganism Specialized Research Centre of the Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel has now developed a further theory on the backgrounds leading to various civilization diseases. In their treatise “Exposure of the Host-Associated Microbiome to Nutrient-Rich Conditions May Lead to Dysbiosis and Disease Development-an Evolutionary Perspective”, the scientists concluded that “a constantly increasing supply of nutrients in the intestine, leads to an increased activity and altered functionality of the microbial society, which strongly disturbs the interactions between host and microbe, and leads to dysbiosis (imbalance of the intestinal flora) and disease development.”

Put simply, this means that intestinal bacteria process less of the substances that are offered to them within the framework of natural cooperation with the host. They no longer do the work they have learned in the course of evolution properly and thus promote the development of diseases.

“This overfeeding of the bacteria promotes the growth of the microbes as a whole, therefore certain bacterial species multiply to the detriment of other members of the microbiome more intensively and uncontrollably”, co-author Thomas Bosch of Wissenschaft.de is quoted. His colleague Peter Deines explains: “This way, the composition of the bacteria colonization changes the interactions between bacteria and host organism and a serious disturbance, dysbiosis, occurs.”

Bakterien
© Pixabay

The Human Stomach and Marine Habitats

In their studies, the scientists also included research results on the ecology of marine habitats, as infectious diseases have increased not only in the human population but also in the ocean over the past ten years. In doing this, they recognized some parallels to the “bacterial habitat” of the human stomach. Studies on the death of corals, oysters, fish, seaweed, algae, sponges and other invertebrates show that, in addition to urbanization and climate change, nutrient conditions in the sea can also have potentially fatal consequences.

“Changes in the environment that affect this nutrient dependence on host-associated bacteria can severely disrupt the interaction between host and microbe, leading to dysbiosis and disease development”, write Bosch, Deines, and their colleagues. If there were an unnaturally large supply of nutrients in the water, the bacteria associated with corals would be able to take advantage of this supply and no longer feed on coral metabolites. This would upset the balance of the coral microbiome and lead to diseases.

“In this connection between nutrient availability and the balance of host-bacteria relationships, we see a universal principle that goes far beyond the very specific example of corals”, explains co-author Tim Lachnit. “In studies on our model organism, the freshwater polyp Hydra, we were able to confirm this relationship experimentally.” The researchers believe that these principles observed in the ocean could also be transferred to the human microbiome.

Further Research

For future research work based on their “overfeeding hypothesis”, the scientists have set themselves the goal of finally finding new therapies. “An interesting question will be whether the original evolutionary processes that balance the microbiome also have therapeutic potential”, said Lachnit. “In future, for example, in addition to the known health-promoting effects of fasting, we will also focus on its effects on the composition and function of the microbiome and thus on the course of inflammatory diseases.”

 

‘Tequila bacteria’ used for producing medicinal weed

Farmako, a Frankfurt-based pharmaceutical startup company, has discovered a new way to produce cannabinoid using genetically modified bacteria that convert sugar into the active ingredients of the cannabis plant. Farmako applied to the European Patent Office for a patent in February, the company announced.

According to spokesman Victoria Schneider, the company aims to respond to the rapidly growing demand for cannabinoids for medical use. Founder and CEO Niklas Kouparanis (29) speaks of a “revolution” within the pharmaceutical industry. The active ingredients in cannabis such as THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are currently almost exclusively extracted from the flowers of weed plants. However, several universities and companies are trying to synthetically produce the medically active ingredients of the plant. Farmako is among the first to succeed in this.

The Farmako-team

They are not the first ones, though. Two American companies managed to produce cannabinoids with the help of brewer’s yeast. But according to molecular biologist and Farmako co-founder Patrick Schmitt (26) this technique is expensive and difficult to convert into industrial production. With the Farmako bacteria this should be a lot easier.

BRINGING MALARIA INTO THE MIX

The bacterium Farmako uses is also known as the “tequila bacterium” because it is used in the production of the famous Mexican alcoholic drink. The official name is zymomonas mobilis. Farmako has genetically modified this bacterium by adding genes from the malaria parasite and removing other pieces of genetic material.

According to spokesman Schneider, the potential possibilities are enormous. In Europe there are several countries that have legalised pharmaceutical cannabis, including Germany, Denmark and Great Britain. Canada has a market of €30 billion. Consultant Prohibition Partners estimates that, for Europe, the market will have grown to €58 billion by 2028. According to Schneider, customers will also benefit. The costs of medical cannabis will be reduced, while the supply will be increased, she says.

Farmako is only a year old and employs nearly 40 people. The company is aiming to start producing synthetic cannabis in the second half of this year. The company further profits from “regular” trade in medical cannabis, such as CBD oil. Their aim is to become a European market leader. Earlier this month they made a deal with the Polish company Pharmacann to import 50 tons of marijuana flowers and weed oil over a period of four years. German pharmacies are currently still importing a large number of cannabis pharmaceuticals from the Netherlands and Canada.

Besides Kouparinis and Schmitt, Sebastian Diemer is involved in the company as a financer. Diemer is a well-known member of the Berlin startup community, having several startups to his name and living an exuberant lifestyle. He reportedly sold one of the companies he founded, Kreditech, for several millions.

Ship hulls and teeth suffer from harmful biofilms – it’s time to investigate how they feed themselves

Mikroorgansismen, Bakterien

What do ship hulls and teeth have in common? The answer: harmful biofilms can settle on both materials. These rather slimy coatings consist of countless microorganisms. Worst case scenario, they are undesirable bacteria. And these, in turn, can cause some damage. For example, fouling on ship hulls has economic consequences due to the increase in weight and the increased flow resistance. Caries and periodontitis, on the other hand, pose considerable health risks. In order to counteract the formation of harmful biofilms, it is first necessary to understand how they spread. So the central question is: how does their nutrient supply work?

Microbes generate flow

This is exactly what an international research team led by the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf (HHU) is now investigating. It consisted of members of the Institute for Theoretical Physics II at the HHU, Stanford (USA), Argonne (USA) and Santiago de Chile. The scientists also came from different physical disciplines such as hydrodynamics and biophysics.

Initially, the researchers developed a comprehensive micro-hydrodynamic theory. They then analysed it for different types of motion. The researchers looked at which movement strategies the individual bacteria carried out in order to generate a flow. The microbes used these to ensure that the nutrients were automatically delivered to them. This, in turn, guaranteed their optimal supply. In short: the biofilms generate their own nutrient supply. Through diversity or inhomogeneity in the movements, they generate a flow that is directed towards the biofilm and carries the nutrients with it.

Adaptable result

Prof. Dr. Hartmut Löwen, HHU physicist and co-author of the study, summarizes the reverse conclusion as follows: “If all bacteria perform the same movements, this leads to a standstill of the water flow and thus to their certain death from starvation”. Depending on how the microorganisms move, certain patterns develop on the biofilms. These can be used to control the flow of nutrients. Thus it is possible to destroy bacterial colonies without poison by disturbing the inflow. On the other hand, with the desired biofilms, it is also conceivable to promote intelligent cooperation between the microorganisms. This would guarantee an extensive food supply.

By the way, this principle is not limited to bacteria. It also applies to microrobots or “artificial swimmers”. The latter are particles that are set in motion by fuels. They could, for example, be used to transport drugs in the human body to the desired destination.

The scientists’ original publication appeared in issue 121 of Physical Review Letters. A. J. T. M. Mathijssen, F. Guzman-Lastra, A. Kaiser, H. Löwen, Nutrient transport driven by microbial active carpets, Physical Review Letters 121, 248101 (2018).

Picture above: Movement pattern on a flat biofilm (coloured blue-red) and thus generated flow lines from the solvent (blue), which provide for the transport of nutrients (coloured balls). Stanford University / Arnold J. T. M. Mathijssen