The Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research has appointed Diana Machado de Sousa as Personal Professor in Microbial Physiology within the Microbiology Chair Group. The appointment is as per 1 May 2020.
Diana Machado de Sousa (1978) studied Biological Engineering at the University of Minho in Portugal and obtained her PhD degree at the same university in 2007. During her PhD she studied the conversion of lipids to methane, a natural process that occurs when microbial communities live under oxygen-free (anaerobic) conditions. For this conversion close metabolic interactions between different microbes (syntrophy), living together in microbial communities, are required. From 2007 to 2013 she worked as Assistant Professor at the University of Minho, where she initiated a new research line on syngas fermentation.
In 2013 she moved to the Laboratory of Microbiology of Wageningen University & Research, where she continued her research on microbial interactions and on the anaerobic conversion of simple carbon compounds (such as CO2 and methanol). In 2017 she was promoted to Associate Professor and assumed the leadership of the Microbial Physiology group of the Laboratory of Microbiology, as a successor of Prof. Alfons Stams. Several projects were initiated under her leadership, including a NWO-TTW Perspective Programme on Microbial Syngas Conversion.
Microbial interactions in natural and synthetic communities
Interactions between microorganisms play a crucial role in anaerobic communities in nature. “The different ways microbes have developed to collaborate or compete in microbial communities is fascinating”, explains Prof. Sousa her interest. She stresses that gaining insight into the physiology of anaerobic microorganisms in nature is of importance to improve the design of synthetic microbial communities for industrial applications or to optimize natural communities for the removal of environmental pollutants. Prof. Sousa made this field her area of focus and will study the basic mechanisms of microbial interactions in anaerobic microbial communities using state-of-the-art high-throughput cultivation techniques and genomics approaches.
Microorganisms as solutions for a circular economy
“The sustainable production of chemicals and fuels, and the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases, are two urgent challenges for our society. Anaerobic microorganisms can offer solutions for a more circular economy as some are able to use CO2 and CO,” says Prof. Sousa.
One current area of Prof. Sousa’s research focuses on the fermentation of syngas, a gaseous mixture of CO2, CO and H2, that can be produced from organic waste or biomass. Typical products of syngas fermentation are acetic acid and ethanol, but at the Microbial Physiology group innovative tailored microbial co-cultures were developed to produce higher value chemical compounds, such as caproate and hexanol, that are used as building blocks in chemical industry. This novel fermentation strategy was the basis for an interdisciplinary Perspective research programme to advance syngas fermentation. Within this programme, novel synthetic microbial communities are created, for example, for the production of bioplastics. The research of Prof. Sousa’s group thereby contributes to the mission of WUR to provide innovative solutions for a biobased and circular economy.