George H. McArthur IV, Ph.D. student, Virginia Commonwealth University
Microbial Cellular Engineering
The conversion of lignocellulosic raw materials to molecules suitable for liquid transportation fuel can be acheived via microbial metabolism. However, this does not usually occur naturally in a single microorganism nor does it occur efficiently. Therefore, novel metabolism must be developed to realize the desired chemical transformation. Synthetic biology (specifically, synthetic genomics) offers an approach to truly engineering metabolic, regulatory and signaling pathways by providing well-characterized genetic modules (e.g., like those found in the Registry of Standard Biological Parts) that can be interchanged and composed into larger, more complex systems. Eventually, whole-cell systems may be engineered to function or behave in a predicted manner (e.g., economically viable production of fuel from inexpensive biomass).
Biochemical Process Engineering
Although engineered microorganisms may synthesize the desired product or products, separation processes are necessary for purification. In addition, the bioreactor in which the microbes are grown must be optimized for the particular process and the substrate must be appropriately treated upstream of the bioreactor. This work is focused on the development of an optimal bioreactor for the growth of the platform organism and the production of the desired product. In addition, a novel extraction system is being developed for the facile separation of product from culture broth.
Synthetic Biology Education
I am the founder of the Virginia Genetically Engineered Machine Team, a synthetic biology research group of undergraduate students at the University of Virginia, which competes in MIT's international Genetically Engineered Machines competition. In 2007, I directed the inaugural VGEM Team. I served as an advisor to the 2008 VGEM Team and directed the first introductory synthetic biology course at UVA, which I created as part of my undergraduate thesis. Hopefully, I'll be able to establish a similar team here at VCU.