The production of fuels, bulk chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and nutraceuticals in an environmentally sustainable manner and at low costs is one of the greatest challenges of this century. Biological production of these molecules can bring many benefits over the use of petroleum and other fossil fuels as feedstocks. My independent lab will focus on developing novel biological solutions for the production of bioproducts using non-model biological host systems. We will develop methodologies, tools, and computational approaches to engineer these biological systems to harness their potential for solutions to some of society's most pressing issues, including developing sustainable fuels, chemicals, and low-cost pharmaceutical precursors.
My research program will have three broad goals: (i) develop a high-throughput, robotics based synthetic biology platform for non-model, commercially relevant host organisms (i.e., eukaryotes such as algae or fungi), (ii) create a bioinformatic data mining pipeline based on machine learning for the discovery of novel enzymes and metabolic pathways, which can be quickly tested in our high-throughput synthetic biology pipeline developed in Aim I, and (iii) apply these tools (Aim I & II) to answer the most pressing engineering and scientific questions, such as the discovery of the enzymes responsible for the biosynthesis of the biopolymer algaenan, a precursor to petroleum, or to find novel plant enzymes to produce drug precursors that cannot be sustainably harvested.
With this presentation I will highlight some of my past research accomplishments and a selection of research directions I would like to pursue. Specifically, (i) results from my research into engineering algae for biofuel production (published in Nature Communications, Eukaryotic Cell, Bioengineered), (ii) examples of my high-throughput synthetic biology and bioinformatic discovery platforms, and (iii) specific research questions to address with these tools, including discovery of the enzymes that created the biopolymer precursors to petroleum, a pipeline for screening plant enzymes for secondary metabolite production, and the high-throughput creation of gene knock out libraries in non-model eukaryotes.
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