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    1. Natural Product Biosynthesis and Engineering.
    Medicinally active natural products have functional group arrays and scaffold architectures that offer advanced platforms for the development of successful new drugs. The study of biosynthetic routes to natural products will facilitate the production of target molecules including commercial drugs and key starting materials for chemical derivatization and semisynthesis. Our lab is interested in studying the biosynthesis of various pharmaceutically important natural products, including but not limited to antimycin-type depsipeptides, the manumycin family, and pyrroloindole alkaloids. We are also developing general platforms of in situ natural products labeling for various applications.

    2. Genome Mining for New Bioactive Molecule Discovery. Small-molecule Secondary Metabolites (SSMs) are often employed by microbes to access information about both their intracellular physiological status and their extracellular environment, and they are often critical in controlling complex processes including morphological differentiation, multicellularity, biofilm formation, secondary metabolite production, and virulence. In order to block the bacterial communication leading to pathogenicity, it is important to unveil the identity and function of the hidden SSMs in pathogenic bacteria. We are interested in unveiling hidden SSMs from mycobacteria, followed by mode of action studies. The characterization of enzymatic machinery for the biosynthesis of SSMs and their functional network will promote the development of new anti-bacterial treatments. Additionally, we are also interested in uncovering the identity and function of hidden signaling SSMs in clostridia, with the goal of improving ABE fermentation performance.

    3. Microbial Production of Fuel-like Molecules. Bacterial volatiles represent a source for new biofuel compounds in addition to the traditional bioethanol and plant oil-derived biodiesel.  The relevant volatile compounds that have been identified include various short- to medium-chain alkanes, alkenes, alcohols, and isoprenoids, which have great potential to replace or supplement petroleum-derived chemicals and fuels. However, little is known about the enzymatic logic for the biosynthesis of many of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by various bacterial cultures. In order to develop more sustainable and economically feasible biochemicals and biofuels, it is important to fully characterize the enzymatic mechanisms of biosynthesis and secretion of these hydrocarbons as well to engineer their heterologous production with increased yield and efficiency in preferred hosts.