A partnership between Novozymes and the Department of Systems Biology at the Technical University of Denmark means that all the country’s upper-secondary schools (gymnasiums) will be able to borrow professional equipment free of charge to conduct biotechnology experiments. The experiments are part of a larger educational project in which upper-secondary pupils will collect microorganisms and then test whether they are new and unknown and whether they can degrade cellulose. The significance of this is that cellulose-degrading microorganisms are the main element in the development of future biofuels.

The partnership between industry, university and upper-secondary schools is completely new. “If Denmark is to maintain its position as the leader in biotechnology, it is important to broaden biotechnology both as an industry and as an academic subject. We are delighted that biotechnology is becoming a subject in upper-secondary schools,” says Per Falholt, Novozymes’ executive vice president for research and development.

Novozymes has sponsored the project with funding of DKK 1 million for the purchase of equipment. And in a unique initiative Novozymes is also making its research department available to upper-secondary pupils so that they can study the microorganisms that they find.

According to Anne Krarup, the Ministry of Education’s adviser in biology, never before has a company given sponsorship that in one go raises the professional level of all upper-secondary schools in the country. And Ole Filtenborg, head of the Department of Systems Biology at the Technical University of Denmark, is also delighted with the sponsorship. “It is important that companies also help turn the focus on biotechnology as a subject because they can contribute understanding of what the reality is,” he maintains.

Outside in nature and inside in the laboratory

The upper-secondary pupils will search out their local areas to find microorganisms that can degrade cellulose and are therefore relevant in the development of second-generation bioethanol. The equipment will enable the pupils to isolate special pieces of the microorganisms’ DNA. The schools will send the microorganisms that they find and their DNA to Novozymes’ research department, which will carry out identification of the microorganisms. In this way a Danish map of cellulose-degrading microorganisms can be established.

The educational project has been drawn up by Biotech Academy. The project is currently being tried out at three upper-secondary schools. It will be available to all the country’s upper-secondary and HTX schools at www.biotechacademy.dk on June 1, 2008.