SupraBAC: Coating Bacteria with Supramolecular Polymers for New Catalysis

Name of applicant

Changzhu Wu


Associate Professor


University of Southern Denmark


DKK 5,000,000



Type of grant

Semper Ardens: Accelerate


Many people probably think of Escherichia coli (E. coli) as pathogenic bacteria. In fact, most of this specie occur naturally in our intestines and are harmless. In industry, E. coli is widely used to produce many important types of medicine and chemicals. A major challenge of using them is, however, that they are vulnerable to industrial harsh process conditions leading to low efficiency. To protect them, I propose to equip E. coli with a supramolecular coat via a chemical coating process called atom transfer radical polymerization. The coating will not only make E. coli stronger but also allow them to perform new-to-nature catalytic reactions.


Providing robust bacteria for industry is important for their efficient production of, such as beer, insulin, and chemicals. Unfortunately, most industrial bacteria are not robust but very vulnerable to heating, extreme pH, and organic solvents, which are sometimes inevitable during the industrial process. To solve this big problem, I propose a polymer coating technology to make bacteria stronger, in the hope to enable them efficiently applied in a wide spectrum of industrial conditions for value-added production. This platform technology will remove a critical bottleneck in using bacteria for industry. The use of these coated bacteria will allow for their robust chemical production while generating no toxic side products, contributing to sustainability and green transition.


The polymeric coating on bacteria is made by mixing bacteria with chemical precursors, which contain supramolecules, at physiological conditions. Because chemical precursors will be tailor-made in my lab, they can quickly be grafted from bacterial surfaces as large polymers containing thousands of supramolecules. These supramolecules on bacterial surfaces will act as dual functions to 1) protect bacteria from environmental stress, and 2) give bacteria supramolecular properties for chemical reactions.

Back to listing page