Exploring and expanding biocatalysis for non-canonical functional groups

In our research, we seek to develop biocatalytic methodology for incorporating functional groups which are rare in nature (eg. halogen, alkyne, alkenes etc.) but highly used in pharmaceuticals and chemical biology. These efforts are carried out by the biochemical characterization of novel enzymes, as well as engineering of known enzymes to improve their selectivity towards non-native substrates. We aim to develop strategies for environmentally-friendly elaboration of chiral building blocks, natural product analogs, modified macromolecules, and other valuable specialty or commodity chemicals.

Sustainable chemical synthesis from carbon dioxide

Diverse classes of organisms are able to biosynthesize all necessary cellular metabolites from carbon dioxide and sustainable energy sources by employing a number of different carbon fixation pathways. Replicating these systems for targeted chemical synthesis has been a long-standing goal in the field of synthetic chemistry, owing to the abundance and low cost of carbon dioxide as a starting material. Additionally, the recent implication of carbon dioxide as a leading cause of anthropogenic climate change demonstrates the power of these sustainable synthesis platforms to transform an unwanted and harmful waste product into useful small molecule targets. Towards this goal, our lab is interested in harnessing the power of energy efficient non-photosynthetic carbon fixation pathways for the synthesis of value-added chemicals from carbon dioxide.

Engineering pathways for production of biofuels and biopolymers

The growing global energy and plastic demand, coupled with concerns over climate change, have led to an escalating need to mine sustainable energy resources. One major source is the renewable carbon found in plant biomass, which can be converted to liquid fuels and sustainable polymers via microbial fermentation. We build new biosynthetic pathways in bacterial hosts that can convert plant biomass into fuel molecules (butanol, fatty acids etc.) and novel polymers (precursors for synthetic rubbers and nylons). Using synthetic biology methods, we can draw enzymes from a variety of different environmental organisms and combine them in a single genetically-engineered host. This mix-and-match approach allows us to create and tailor new biological tools for multi-step, multi-enzyme sustainable chemical synthesis.

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