Applying synthetic biology to biotechnology and environmental challenges
The Synthetic Biology Group develops and applies principles and techniques for biosystems design in non-model organisms, biofuels crops, and associated biosystems to solve renewable energy and environmental challenges. The group focuses on engineering plants, bacteria, and fungi for a variety of applications.
One area of study is developing tools to modify non-model microbes that are difficult to grow in the laboratory and are not as well-studied as model organisms such as E. coli and yeast. These non-model microbes display a range of characteristics that are promising for applications such as biochemical conversion of plants into renewable fuels, upcycling of plastics into higher-value chemicals, and breaking down toxins in the environment.
Another area of focus is engineering better biofuels feedstocks using plant genome editing and metabolic pathway modifications to create hardier, more disease- and drought-resistant plants that can capture and hold more carbon in their biomass. Researchers work with poplar, switchgrass, and a several other feedstocks to identify the function of key genes and leverage that knowledge to solve renewable energy and environmental challenges, working from the organism to the ecosystem level.