Nico Claassens is an associate professor of microbiology at Wageningen University. He researches how bacteria can better convert CO2 into products and biomass. The ultimate vision is industrial biotechnology.

What is your research about?

Capturing CO2 with bacteria. We are reprogramming bacteria by modifying their DNA to capture it more efficiently and with less energy. For example, with CRISPR-Cas, but we have a very large toolbox. We work with E. coli, which is well understood. It depends on the bacteria and the adaptation you want to make. We generate a range of mutations that we think are important. Then we have a competition to see which one grows the fastest. We make sure they need CO2 to do it. We can make a lot of them at once and have them do a competition experiment. The Bacterial Olympics.

Why did you choose this subject?

I studied both environmental science and biotechnology. I am fascinated by what micro-organisms can do. It makes me think about environmental and climate problems and how to address them. The best part is when we make a breakthrough with colleagues. One recent breakthrough was with a bacterium that can grow at high temperatures. It was a difficult bacterium to adapt, but we finally got it to grow on methanol. At first it only grew on sugar. Now it grows partly on methanol.

What prop did you bring?

A pen, a sports shirt and a mobile phone, because they are all made of plastic. We are looking for a new way to get the carbon from somewhere. CO2 from the air will be the ultimate carbon source.