Harnessing Microbes for Sustainable Treatment Process Workshop 2021: The Flagship Event of UTM Environmental Biotechnology Research Group

Prepared by: ChM. Dr. Mohd Firdaus Abdul Wahab, Dr. Adibah Yahya & Dr. Siti Pauliena Mohd Bohari

The Harnessing Microbes Workshop was a flagship program organized by the Environmental Biotechnology Research Group (EnVBiotech), Faculty of Science, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). EnVBiotech is a leading research group on environmental biotechnology, working on various aspects of environmental biotechnology, microbiology and biochemistry.

The group’s research involves the fundamental and applied studies on the bioconversion of solid and liquid wastes into value-added products, other than the mechanistic studies of bioremediation processes towards a sustainable waste treatment process.

This second such workshop by EnVbiotech was held virtually from 19-21 September 2021 in collaboration with the Asian Federation of Biotechnology (AFOB) and supported by the Resource Sustainability Research Alliance UTM. The first one was held back in 2018, where the participants were provided with various talks by the group’s researchers and external invited speakers, followed by hands-on training on the selected topics.

This year, due to the pandemic restrictions, talks were given through Webex online teleconferencing platform, with several modules delivered via interactive video walk-through. This year’s workshop was also integrated with and sponsored by the Faculty of Science Online Global Classroom (OGC) event, which allowed faculty students to participate in the various talks delivered. Altogether, more than 30 participants benefited from the programs outlined.

The Dean of the Faculty of Science, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zaiton Abdul Majid, opened the workshop on 19 September 2021 with her welcoming remarks, chaired by the Head of EnVBiotech, Dr. Adibah Yahya.

The first scientific session was delivered by Prof. Ts. Dr. Azmi Aris from the Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Water Security (IPASA) UTM. Prof. Azmi, who is also the Senior Director of the Research Institute for Sustainable Environment (RISE) UTM, set the scene by discussing the various challenges faced by the current wastewater treatment processes, in addition to the current practices. His talk sparked various interests among the participants from the questions asked about the future directions of wastewater treatment.

The rest of the morning sessions were filled with talks by members of EnVBiotech and affiliate members from the Malaysia Japan International Institute of Technology (MJIIT), starting with ChM. Dr. Mohd Firdaus Abdul Wahab and Ts. Dr. Wan Rosmiza Zana Wan Dagang on biohydrogen production and microbial fuel cells from palm oil mill effluent (POME); Prof. Datin Dr. Zaharah Ibrahim, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shafinaz Shahir, Dr. Haryati Jamaluddin and Dr. Norahim Ibrahim on the case studies of the various roles of bacteria in the sustainable treatment process; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Madihah Md. Salleh and Dr. Huszalina Hussin on the applications of fungi in wastes and wastewater treatments; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shaza Eva Mohamad and Dr. Mohd Farizal Ahmad Kamaroddin on the applications of microalgae for biofuel production; followed by Dr. Chong Chun Shiong presenting on the metagenomics and multi-omics case study.

The afternoon session was dedicated to the techniques used in water and wastewater quality analysis, conducted by Dr. Mohamed Zuhaili Mohamed Najib from IPASA. The participants were also introduced to IPASA’s mobile lab by Prof. Azmi. Discussion on the various techniques continued on the second day, with Mr. Muhammad Faiz Fathi introduced the capabilities of the HACH Spectrophotometer for wastewater analysis. ChM. Dr. Mohd Firdaus then discussed the methods to pre-treat and enrich anaerobic sludge for biohydrogen production and the use of Gas Chromatography for analyzing biogas components.

In the afternoon, Prof. Zaharah and Dr. Adibah introduced the participants to the basic techniques in microbiology. The day’s final session was from the distinguished speaker, Prof. Thomas Curtis from the School of Engineering, Newcastle University, United Kingdom. Prof. Curtis discussed the state-of-the-art microbial technologies in sustainable wastewater treatment, including microbial ecology’s experimental and theoretical aspects.

On the final day, the participants were introduced to rapid composting methods and the farming projects conducted around the Iskandar region by Dr. Norahim and Dr. Huszalina. The EnVBiotech-MJIIT microalgae team, led by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shaza and Dr. Farizal had then introduced the algae cultivation capabilities available at the Department of Biosciences, Faculty of Science and Algal Biomass ikohza at MJIIT, via engaging video walk-through assisted by members of the groups.

The final scientific session of the workshop was a discussion of real experimental data, moderated by Dr. Adibah, featuring Dr. Wan Rosmiza, Dr. Mohd Firdaus and Dr. Chong as the panellists. A range of experimental data outputs were discussed, including MFC experiments, biohydrogen, and metagenomics data processing. The workshop was concluded with closing remarks by the Director of Biosciences, Dr. Alina Wagiran, followed by a certificate presentation ceremony.

Overall, this year’s edition of the Harnessing Microbes workshop presented the participants with the latest advancements in bacterial, fungal and algal technologies for the use in wastes and wastewater treatment, as part of the effort to mitigate climate change and contribute to a more sustainable economy. It has brought together academic staff, researchers and postgraduate students on a common platform to engage in a stimulating discussion and network for potential future collaborations.

EnVBiotech invites all parties interested in microbial technologies to participate in the next edition of Harnessing Microbes workshop. Like and follow EnVBiotech Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/envbiotech) and website (https://science.utm.my/envbiotech) for more information on upcoming workshops, courses and other exciting events. Until next time!


Figure 2: Demonstration of the microalgae cultivation capabilities in EnVBiotech and at MJIIT

Figure 3: Scientific talk by Prof. Thomas Curtis from Newcastle University on the microbial ecology of sustainable wastewater treatment process


Figure 4: Scientific talk on composting and its agricultural applications

Figure 5: Scientific talk on the pre-treatment and acclimatization of anaerobic sludge for biohydrogen production

Figure 6: Some of the speakers and participants of the workshop