George H. McArthur IV, Ph.D. student, Virginia Commonwealth University
Research in Microbial Metabolic Engineering
The ability to program microbial metabolism offers a sustainable avenue for chemical production.
Without modification, the natural metabolism of microbes has been exploited for millennia to produce fermented foodstuffs such as wine, beer, bread, cheese and yogurt. Relatively recently, microbes have been used to manufacture antibiotics, which are also natural products. Genetic "engineering" (i.e., recombinant DNA technology) provided tools for inserting exogenous DNA into microorganisms such as the bacterium E. coli. Human insulin and human growth hormone were two of the earliest products of this recombinant biotechnology.
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).
Thermophile Synthetic Biology Thermostable enzymes and thermophilic microbes are useful in bioprocessing...
Microalgal Metabolic Engineering
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.