Microbial Factories and Artificial Intelligence – Fixing Global Bugs with Tiny Bugs – was the subject of an inaugural lecture presented on the Pietermaritzburg campus by UKZN Microbiologist, Professor Evariste Bosco Gueguim Kana.
Gueguim Kana, who holds a BSc in Pure and Applied Biology, an MSc in Biotechnology and a PhD in Microbiology from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Nigeria, explained that microbial factories generated an array of biopharmaceuticals, biofuels and biochemicals with the potential to revolutionise the bioeconomy of the world and address key global challenges highlighted in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
However, Gueguim Kana emphasised that companies faced increasing pressure to maximise the return on their capital investments and reduce the time required to take new products from design to full-scale production, while the complex multivariate space and the nonlinear nature of these microbial systems challenged the development of viable bioprocesses.
‘Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning provide opportunities to generate models for the rapid development of economically viable bioproduction systems,’ said Gueguim Kana.
During the inaugural lecture, he spoke about his decade-long journey of harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence to develop bioprocesses for biofuels such as biohydrogen, biomethane, bioethanol and other novel bioproducts, using microbial factories powered on industrial and agricultural waste.
Gueguim Kana compared machine learning capabilities with existing algorithms for effective bioprocess development; highlighted knowledge extraction from existing data using machine learning models for microbial processing; and detailed low cost technologies for bioprocess research and development. In so doing, he unravelled the prospects of mitigating key global challenges through Artificial Intelligence in microbial factories.
Gueguim Kana, currently serving as Academic Leader for Research and Higher Degrees within UKZN’s School of Life Sciences, is an Adjunct Professor at the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China. He is also one of UKZN’s top published researchers being on the University’s Top 30 Researcher List in 2017.
As an NRF C-rated scientist, his research focused on microbial process technology with an interest in the biorefinery of agricultural and industrial wastes for biofuels and bioproducts; the application of Artificial Intelligence in bioprocess development, and bioreactor design and nanobiotechnology.
Gueguim Kana has produced approximately 90 publications in national and international peer-reviewed journals and book contributions. His current Google Scholar h-factor is 26 and he has been cited more than 1 500 times.
He was also the recipient of a UKZN Distinguished Teachers’ Award in 2017.
Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Albert Hirasen