Meet the MetaFluidics Team! (Episode 11)

Today, let’s introduce Dr. Emna Bouhajja, from Partner INSA Toulouse (France)

Emna Bouhajja is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Toulouse Biotechnology Institute, one of the most innovative bio & chemical engineering laboratories in France, located on the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées (INSA Toulouse) campus. Emna is part of the Catalysis and Enzyme Molecular Engineering Team (CIMEs), whose research focuses on in-depth mechanistic and structure-activity relationship studies of a broad range of enzymes. Let’s find out more about her and her experience with MetaFluidics in this latest “Meet the MetaFluidics team” interview!

  • What exactly are you working on ?

I’m using microfluidic techniques to screen large metagenomic libraries from extreme environments such as bovine rumen gut, salterns and antarctic rizospheres. Our main targets are the yet-unknown carbohydrate enzymes from uncultivated bacteria. We are looking to characterize them in order to enrich the catalogue of enzymes for biotechnological applications.

Left : Fluorescent bacteria growing in picoliter-scale droplets, one green dot is one bacterium (microscopic picture)

Right: Fluorescent bacteria from picture 1 forming visible colonies on growth medium, one green dot is 1 million bacteria
  • Which problem would you like to solve / contribute to in the future?

The main problem I would like to solve is the limitation of commercially available chromogenic carbohydrates, which are key components in conventional screening procedures, thereby enhancing the novelty of enzymes discovered. Moreover, the high price of these reagents is always a limiting factor when we plan for a screening campaign. For example, the average current price for several carbohydrate active enzyme substrates is 50 euros per 10 mg. Theoretically, if you want to screen a 20,000-clone library twice, you will need at least 100 g of substrate, which costs 500,000 euros. My work is to miniaturize the screening assays from the ml- to the µl-scale to drastically reduce the cost and make use of natural substrates that have no chromogenic analogues in the market.

  • Will the MetaFluidics project change your career prospects?

Yes, I have gained a considerable expertise in the field of enzyme discovery from the environment, using not only powerful but also in vogue mining tools, which is very important in my professional career. Within our project, I could see my working network increase thanks to the multiple collaborations with partners from different European universities and from the industry. This is definitely a boost for me to move gradually from fundamental research to applied research. 

  • A more personal question now… Name the one time in your life when you were the happiest.

The happiest time in my life was when I got my PhD. I knew that it was the starting point for an adventurous life as a researcher, which is full of challenges.

For more information about Toulouse Biotechnology Institute at Partner INSA Toulouse, please visit their webpage: