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BioUPGRADE assembles expertise in functional genomics, protein engineering, material science, and bioproduct scale-up and deployment to deliver biocatalysts that tailor structural biopolymers for use in high-value biomaterials.

Aalto University (Finland)

Professor Emma Master (Coordinator; WP2 Lead) is an Adjunct Professor at Aalto University and Full Professor at the University of Toronto (Canada). In 2010, she was awarded a Finland Distinguished Professor Fellowship (FiDiPro Fellow, Tekes, Finland) to establish her research in Finland in the area of biocatalysts for engineered polysaccharides. In 2015, she was awarded a European Research Council Consolidator grant to further grow her team at Aalto and network within Europe. Her research activities focus on mining fungal genome and metagenome datasets for enzymes and non-catalytic proteins that sustainably introduce new functionalities to structural biopolymers. In so doing, her team aims to expand the ways genomics data can accelerate the transition to sustainable bio-based economies.

Dr. Jarkko Mutanen (Project Manager) is a Project Manager at Aalto University Research and Innovation services with several years of experience in EU-project coordination and management. He received his PhD in Physics from the University of Joensuu, Finland. He has done his post doctoral research in the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, and in the field of spectral imaging, photonics and micro- and nano structures and their applications.

Anna Pohto is a Ph.D. student in Prof. Emma Master's group at Aalto University. She completed her Master's thesis at Aalto on the topic of biophysical characterization of non-catalytic proteins and is now continuing her research for her thesis.

Deepika Dahiya is a Ph.D. student in Prof. Emma Master's group at Aalto University. She completed her Bachelor’s in Technology (B.Tech) and Master’s in Technology (M.Tech) in India, with a focus on biotechnology and bioprocess engineering. As a part of Protein Technology group at Aalto, her work focuses on the production and expression of microbial expansin related proteins. She further uses these proteins to tailor cellulosic fibers and develop cost effective enzymatic treatments of lignocellulosic biomass.

Taru Koitto is a Ph.D. student in Prof. Emma Master’s group at Aalto University. She has studied Chemical Engineering at Aalto University and is currently doing her Ph.D. on the engineering and biophysical characterization of non-catalytic proteins.

Aalto University ALUMNI

Dr. Majid Haddad Momeni is a postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Emma Master’s group at Aalto University, Finland. Dr. Haddad received his Ph.D. in Structural Biology from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Sweden. He has characterized several fungal-based cellulases (mainly cellobiohydrolases) during his Ph.D. program and focused on biochemical-biophysical characterizations of oxidoreductive enzymes involve in deconstruction of recalcitrant biomasses during former postdoctoral studies. In Prof. Emma Master’s group, he works on sequence/structure analysis, production and advance biophysical/biochemical characterization of non-hydrolytic proteins.

Dr. Eleni Ioannou is a postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Master’s group at Aalto University and is specialized in protein biology. Dr. Ioannou received her Ph.D. from Aberystwyth University, where she produced and biochemically characterized in silico designed chimeric multifunctional enzymes. In Prof. Emma Master’s group at Aalto, she focuses on the biophysical characterization of non-catalytic proteins.

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Aalto University is a community of bold thinkers where science and art meet technology and business. Aalto builds a sustainable future by creating novel solutions to major global challenges. We value responsibility, courage, and collaboration.

The BioUPGRADE project will be carried out at the School of Chemical Engineering, in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems (BIO2). Research will be benefiting also from national investments to Bioeconomy Infrastructure located on the Otaniemi Campus (

CIC Nanogune (spain)

Professor Raul Perez Jimenez (WP1 Lead) is an Ikerbasque Research Professor leading the nanobiomechanics group at nGUNE. After joining nanoGUNE in 2013, Prof. Perez-Jimenez started a research line that combines mechanobiology with enzyme engineering with the purpose of developing new enzymes and biomaterials for biotechnology applications. He is the cofounder of Evolgene Genomics, a spin-off company dedicated to exploit the power of ancestral enzymes.

Dr. Ylenia Jabalera is a postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Raul Perez-Jimenez’s group at CIC nanoGUNE and is specialized in molecular biology and protein engineering. Dr. Jabalera received her Ph.D. from University of Granada, where she developed and characterized new magnetic nanosystems for biotechnological applications. In Prof.  Raul Perez Jimenez’s group, she works on the design and characterization of ancestral proteins and enzymes for their application in material sciences.

Alba Fernandez Calvo is a Ph.D. student in Prof. Raul Perez-Jimenez's group. She completed her Bachelor's in Molecular and Cellular Biology at University of Glasgow and her Master's in Molecular Nanoscience at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. In Prof. Raul Perez-Jimenez's group, she works on the biophysical characterization of proteins. 

Irati Mitxelena is a PhD student in Prof. Raul Perez-Jimenez’s group. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology at the University of Cincinnati (USA) and her Master’s at the University of the Basque Country. Her PhD thesis focuses on the design of enzymes as well as the optimization of expression systems.

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CIC nanoGUNE in the Basque Country, Spain is a research institute that was created with the goal of becoming a world class center for nanosciences, pursuing excellence in research, active technology transfer and international cooperation. CIC nanoGUNE has been awarded as a María de Maeztu excellence award by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education being one of the highest ranked research institutions in Spain. In addition, CIC nanoGUNE is one of the best equipped centers in Europe for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology research. Over 80 researchers divided into ten groups work at CIC nanoGUNE covering all major areas of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. These areas include: nanostructures and nanoscale structured complex systems, nanofabrication of nanomaterials, development of nanodevices and biofunctional nanoparticles and nanobiotechnology.

Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (Sweden)

Associate Professor Francisco Vilaplana established his research group in 2015 at KTH focused on the biotechnological exploitation of biomass carbohydrates for advanced applications in materials and nutrition. Assoc Prof. Vilaplana is currently Head of the Division of Glyscoscience, principal investigator at the Wallenberg Wood Science Centre (WWSC) and affiliated researcher with Treesearch (Swedish National Infrastructure for New Materials from Trees).

Zsuzsanna Péter-Szabó is a Ph.D. student in Associate Professor Francisco Vilaplana's group at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. She received her chemical engineering B.Sc. in Hungary and material science M.Sc. at KTH Royal Technology of institute in Sweden. She has R&D work experience with material and product development from cosmetic industry and biomaterial based innovation. Her thesis focuses on application of surface-active enzymes on fibers and material characterization of the end products.

Dr. Pramod Sivan is a researcher in Assoc Prof. Francisco Vilaplana’s group at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.  He received his PhD from Sardar Patel University, Gujarat in 2013, where he investigated the structural and chemical changes in the cell wall during wood formation. His post-doctoral research focus has been on qualitative and quantitative analysis of cell wall polymers in genetically modified model plants specifically targeted for xylan and lignin biosynthesis pathway to understand the interaction between matrix polymers and their significance in improving the biomass properties such as saccharification efficiency. The present research at Glycoscience division of KTH is focused to develop advanced mass spectrometric methods for the detailed molecular characterization of structural polysaccharides (hemicelluloses) in model plant cell walls in order to understand the molecular basis for the interactions and recalcitrance of lignocellulosic biomass.

Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan Alumni

Dr. Hüsamettin Deniz Özeren is a postdoctoral researcher in Assoc Prof. Francisco Vilaplana’s lab at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and is specialized in biopolymeric materials & characterization and material modeling. Dr. Özeren received his Ph.D. from KTH, where he investigated the thermal and mechanical properties of starch-based plasticized thermoplastic materials and their applications. In Assoc Prof. Vilaplana’s group at KTH, he works on fibre surface modification by biocatalytic methods and their characterization.
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KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (Sweden) is a leading technical university working with industry and society in the pursuit of sustainable solutions to some of humanity’s greatest challenges: climate change, energy supply, urbanisation and wellbeing. BioUPGRADE will be performed at the Division of Glycoscience, Department of Chemistry, which is a leading research unit with multidisciplinary competences on molecular biology, biochemistry and material sciences, performing fundamental and applied research on carbohydrate biotechnology.

UPM-Kymmene Oyj (Finland)

Dr. Janak Sapkota (WP4 Lead) is a Research Manager at UPM Pulp Research and Innovations. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland in 2016, where he investigated the industrial processability and applications of cellulose based nanocomposites. He continued his research career in University of Leoben, Austria, with focus on additive manufacturing of fiber filled composites. At UPM he is responsible for strategic long term research and innovations related to the modification of lignocellulosic fibers for future applications. Since 2018, he is actively involved in developing competencies at UPM, such as creating new knowledge, networks and R&I projects with universities and research institutes.

Dr. Matti Ristolainen (first time FET participant), Head of UPM Pulp Research and Innovations, has studied organic chemistry (M.Sc.) and applied chemistry (M.Sc., Phil.Lic and Ph.D.) at the University of Jyväskylä. After finalizing his Ph.D. in 1999, he created a wide range of competencies at UPM in different R&D positions; manufacturing support, analytical services, end-use research, printing research, external relation concerning global university and institute relations, innovation management, nanocellulose research, novel pulping technology and the design of UPM’s biofuel production.

The latest duties have related to research management and technology development in area of the modern pulp mill water circulation design, side stream management, holistic phosphorus management of modern pulp mill and novel fiber-based materials. Currently, he is responsible of UPM Pulp Research and Innovations. He has numerous scientific publications related to pulping and printing chemistry and patents related to e.g. cellulosic product, pulping, side streams utilization, biomaterials, water circulation and biofuels. He has hold advisor posts in European research organizations.

Dr. Salla Hiltunen is a researcher at UPM Pulp Research and Innovations. Her research activities focus on biochemical and physico-chemical modification of fibres for materials applications. She has received her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 2019 from Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology. Her Ph.D. was focusing on hydrothermal stability of cellulose-based thickeners, particularly MFC and Na-CMC. The MFC gels were prepared from enzymatically pre-treated pulps.

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UPM-Kymmene Oyj responds to the growth in consumer demand with recyclable products that are made of responsibly-sourced and renewable raw materials. We deliver responsible solutions and innovate for a future beyond fossils across six business areas: UPM Biorefining, UPM Energy, UPM Raflatac, UPM Specialty Papers, UPM Communication Papers and UPM Plywood.

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