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Ben Woolston

Development of Genetic Engineering Tools for the Thermophilic Acetogen Moorella thermoacetica

Moorella thermoacetica is an attractive candidate organisms for the production of fuels and chemicals from gaseous substrates (hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide) through the Wood-Ljungdahl (acetyl-CoA) pathway. However, few genetic tools exist for this organism, which are necessary to enable the metabolic engineering required to produce these products at high yields, titers and productivities. The objective of my work is to develop an array of molecular tools, e.g. promoter libraries, reporter genes, selectable markers etc. to enable these efforts, focusing on the production of n-butanol as a target molecule.

Methane-Derived Biofuels

It has been estimated that the proven reserves of natural gas (methane) in the U.S. could, on an energetic basis, sustain the transportation sector of this country for the next 50 years. However, the low energy density of methane necessitates its upgrading to CNG, LNG, or gasoline (through the FT process)  for integration with the current infrastructure. These steps are prohibitively expensive, so we are investigating biological processes for the low-cost conversion of methane to drop-in fuels. This work comprises a theoretical exploration of the various routes for fuel production to compare their relative potentials, and an experimental component aimed at engineering a production strain based on these considerations.

Education

Ph D (Current) – Chemical Engineering, MIT

BSc. (2011) – Chemical Engineering with Honors, The Pennsylvania State University

Publications