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Chemicals and materials for a Bio-based Economy

The world is entering a transition period, one in which we are progressing from a fossil-based economy to a bio-based economy.  In a bio-based economy, items such as fuels, chemicals, and materials will be derived from biological sources, which offer several advantages over fossil-based sources; however, technological advances are required.  Our lab is currently conducting research in this field, on the challenges of utilizing biological source materials and of generating useful products from them.  We employ various microbes and engineer them with a focus on their metabolism.

With respect to source utilization, one project comprises engineering Saccharomyces cerevisiae to be capable of consuming xylose, an important component of lignocellulosic biomass.  Another involves biologically converting syngas into acetate which would then be used as a source material for a subsequent process.

One category of products that our lab works on is fuel.  We are engineering yeast for improved production of ethanol and of lipids for biodiesel, engineering bacteria for production of advanced biofuels, and studying the biological generation of electricity through microbial fuel cells.  Our lab is investigating the production of isoprenoids, a class of organic chemicals with significant pharmaceutical promise, and some work is also being performed on biologically produced polymers and monomer precursors.  These chemicals and materials are a small sample of the potential of a bio-based  economy.