Department of

Chemical Engineering

Designing molecular technology for the 21st century with biology and chemistry

Spring 2010 Seminars

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Synergy of protein and genome engineering for fuels and chemicals production

Nikhil U. Nair
University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign

Thursday, March 25, 2010
10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.

Relocated to 14 Life Sciences Building
Where is the Life Sciences Building?

The sustenance of transportation fuel and chemical industries has insofar been raw materials derived from non-renewable sources such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal. With increasing concerns about energy security and sustainability, equivalent molecules derived from renewable plant biomass have become the frontrunner as promising alternatives.

In addition, the detrimental environmental effects caused by synthetic chemical processes have further motivated the development of "green" biotechnology for the production of value-added chemicals. Unfortunately, natural enzymes and microbes did not evolve for industrial application. Resultantly, significant research has been devoted to engineering them for new, efficient, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective processes. Enzyme properties such as stability, activity, and substrate or product specificity are now routinely modified.

Recent advances in metabolic engineering and systems biology have also enabled the creation of recombinant microbes for the production of complex molecules such as amino acids, fuels, and antibiotics. However, both engineered proteins and genetically modified microbes have limitations.

For example, proteins engineered with altered activity often suffer from inadvertent side effects such as lowered catalytic efficiency or stability due to disruption of the intricate amino acid interactions. Similarly, highly genetically modified microbes may exhibit incidental debilitations such as lowered growth rates and productivity.

To minimize such inefficiencies, my research interest is to explore the potential benefits of combining protein engineering and microbial genome engineering. To achieve this, each of the aforementioned strategies is employed individually to the point where their limitations start to manifest. Thereafter, the effect of combining the two in a single system is examined.

The results show that the combination of the two efforts is synergistic, rather than simply additive. This protein-microbe co-engineering strategy developed here should be applicable to the development of more robust and effective biotechnologies.

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