Researcher in the Spotlight – Rajni Hatti-Kaul

Rajni Hatti-Kaul is a professor of Biotechnology and Director of the International Master Programme in Biotechnology at the Faculty of Engineering of Lund University. Her research focuses on the development of sustainable solutions using various industrial biotechnology methods. Interested to learn more? Read the interview below!

We would like to use this opportunity to thank Rajni for her representation of LU in PlantLink’s steering committee and her active participation in many of PlantLink’s activities!

What is currently on top of your research agenda?

Developing green routes based on industrial biotechnology to produce biobased building blocks for plastics and developing biocatalysts for recycling plastics.

The other field of research I am involved in and would like to promote further is developing enzymes against antibiotic-resistant pathogens that infect humans and livestock. Currently, we have some chimeric enzyme candidates which exhibit antibacterial activity against mycobacterial pathogens.

Tell us about your latest publication.

My last publication is on the work done by my PhD student, who has just defended her thesis. It is about using whole microbial cells bearing a recombinant enzyme belonging to the class of lyases that catalyse the C-C bond formation, which is not so easy via chemical catalysis. In this specific case, the reaction catalysed was between two molecules of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, which is a dehydration product of hexose sugars like glucose and fructose, to form a totally biobased C12-diol molecule in high yields. The product can serve as a building block for polymers like polyurethanes and for fuel products.

What led you to your particular field of research?

Serendipity! I like to combine basic and applied research with a sustainability focus. With the basic knowledge in biochemistry, microbiology and biotechnology, and whatever else I have learned over the years, I have been applying for funding for research in some areas where biotechnological solutions could be developed. I have been lucky in getting decent funding, although it has required persistence and hard work.

What are the implications of your research for society?

Increased sustainability in terms of contributing to reducing the dependence on fossil feedstock, lowering the greenhouse gas emissions and hence lower climate impact, safer nontoxic products for humans and ecosystems, and good health and well-being.

Finally, let´s say you have unlimited research funds; where would your research be five years from now?

First of all, I would like to see some of our work on the production of biobased chemicals and plastic recycling being tested, at least on a pilot scale. I would like to continue work in the area of synthetic biology on developing cell factories for food products and for transforming gases like carbon dioxide and methane into value-added products. Also, I am sure that we would have developed enzyme formulations with high potency against at least 2-3 bacterial pathogens causing respiratory infections.

I would continue to work in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research to develop sustainable solutions for the society.

Thank you for a very interesting interview, Rajni! We wish you the best of luck and success in your future path!

(Photo: Kenneth Ruona)