Professor Ashraf got his BS in Biochemistry from Iowa State University in 1988 and then an MS from the same university in 1991, and finally a doctorate from North Carolina State University in 1999. He has worked in biotech companies in North America for over 6 years in the areas of drug discovery and applied biotechnology. Additionally, he has over 19 years of experience in academia as a faculty member teaching Chemistry and Biochemistry courses, as well as establishing a vibrant and independent research program. His current research interests are in the areas of environmental remediation, applied biotechnology, enzyme engineering, and protein structure and function. He has strong research interests in exploiting novel bacterial isolates as well as peroxidase enzymes for environmental remediation. His lab has developed sensitive LC-MSMS-based assays to detect and identify various organic pollutants and their transformation products. He has also spearheaded the creation of two different undergraduate programs (Biochemistry and Cell and Molecular Biology) as well as MSc and PhD programs in Molecular Life Sciences. Dr. Ashraf has over 100 publications and holds 4 US patents. He is currently a professor and Acting Chair of Biology at Khalifa University, having previously served as an Associate Dean for Postgraduate Studies for 2 years.
Sustainable food and feed production from microalgae with the integrated wastewater treatment system
(Part of Abu Dhabi International Virtual Research Institute for Food Security in the Drylands - ADEK grant; 2022-2027)
Sustainable development and food security need the efficient use of natural resources. Growing global food demand and the growth of environmentally friendly biotechnologies need to establish sustainable production models that include social, environmental, and economic concerns. Furthermore, tackling hunger in the context of climate change will be a future challenge for Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Microalgae have been suggested to provide a solution to global food security issues and mitigate environmental concerns associated with the expansion of land-based agriculture. Microalgae are carbon-hungry and nutrient-rich, making them a sustainable food source for humans and animals. It has been demonstrated in several research and invention projects in several countries that microalgae can be used as a nutritious, economical, and environmentally friendly source of food and animal feed, as well as a biofertilizer for agriculture practices. Microalgae cultivation has not yet been developed in Abu Dhabi, UAE. However, due to the country's rich seawater resources and climate, it is well suited to cultivate microalgae for the food sector, sustainable agriculture, livestock production, etc.
Furthermore, the country's inherent biodiversity provides opportunities to discover novel algal species with biotechnological uses in the livestock sector, fisheries, agriculture, medicine, energy, and the environment. As a result, microalgae production and utilization might be suitable to promote the Abu Dhabi, UAE bio-economy. Therefore, extensive research and investment are needed to discover the native microalgae biodiversity and generate unique, sustainable biotechnology products for various applications. It is vital to strengthen academic, investigative, technological, and production capacity to support the development of biotechnological and economic potential that contributes to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, it is critical to put in place governmental policies that support these activities.
Additionally, public and private funds must be available to develop these biotechnological and economic capabilities. Aquaculture has become increasingly important to food security in the 20th century. Food consumption is anticipated to rise by 60 to 100% as the world population increases from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion. Since microalgae are high in protein, fish meals are a good source of nutrition for fish and shrimp in aquaculture systems. Despite this, the instability of the worldwide market for fish meals has hampered the aquaculture sector's long-term profitability and security. Furthermore, the constant depletion of marine fishing resources in recent years has contributed to a significant scarcity of feedstocks for fish meal production. Fishmeal prices continue to rise due to the depletion of fishmeal resources. Finding alternatives to fish meals (FM) and fish oil (FO) in compound feeds is urgently necessary. The use of microalgae may be a suitable alternative. Aquafeed production increasingly uses microalgae as an alternative to fishmeal. Their net biomass productivity is higher than that of other terrestrial plants and animals. In contrast to land-based plants, microalgae do not require fertile soil to grow. Moreover, microalgae can be grown in seawater, freshwater, or wastewater. Microalgae require relatively few nutrients compared to insects and bacteria. Microalgae protect fish from disease because they contain the right balance of protein, lipids, carbohydrates, and antioxidants. Microalgae contain biomolecules that are beneficial to the nutrition of fish, humans, plants, and animals. Microalgae have been evaluated as a feed for various fish species. Additionally, it promotes the growth of tilapia and carp, improves the reproductive performance of yellow-tailed cichlids, and enhances the immune response of rainbow trout. A study revealed that salmon fed a diet containing 5% of the microalgae schizochytrium gained 31% more weight than salmon fed a diet without microalgae. Similar results were observed when a diet containing 0.75% Tetraselmis suecica increased the weight gain of Pacific white shrimp by 30%. Despite the low inclusion of microalgae in the diet, its positive effect on weight gain is evident, regardless of the species.
(Contributed by Dr. Ashfaq Ahmad, post-doc on the project).
Development of a novel-enzyme-based prototype for large-scale water treatment
(CIRA grant, Khalifa University; 2020-2023)
Various types of organic pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and personal care products are increasingly being detected in our water systems. These “emerging pollutants” arise from domestic as well as industrial discharge, but unfortunately, most of them are not removed during the present-day wastewater treatment plants. A large number of studies, including many from our lab, have demonstrated the applicability of enzymes to degrade different classes of organic pollutants. However, there are only a few published examples of real-life water samples being treated with enzymes. Furthermore, these enzyme-based techniques have not yet been incorporated into large-scale water-treatment systems. The focus of the proposal is to develop immobilized enzyme-based systems using two different immobilizing supports (chitosan-based renewable/sustainable support) as well as novel ‘metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), and use them to degrade a diverse set of emerging pollutants. Finally, a 100-liter bioreactor using immobilized enzyme-based technology would be developed and tested.