- Research focus:
Biodiesel can serve as a renewable alternative to petroleum-derived diesel. The current major feedstock for commercial production of biodiesel in the United States is soybean oil. However, the use of soybean oil poses several issues such as the necessity for arable cropland, competition with food use of the oil, and high feedstock costs. Alternative feedstocks grown on marginal lands or generated from waste or agricultural and forest residues could address these issues.
My particular research interest is the conversion of the lignocellulosic sugars contained within these feedstocks into triacylglycerol (TAG) using Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Although wild-type S. cerevisiae is not oleaginous, I intend to leverage the vast wealth of knowledge on this microorganism, which includes the extensive annotation of its genome, well-established methods to manipulate its genome, well-studied fermentation parameters and nutritional requirements, to drive carbon into TAG. One of the fundamental tools used to accomplish this is a genome-scale model of yeast metabolism. This model condenses information on known and putative reactions occurring in S. cerevisiae into a mathematical framework that allows for simulation of cellular phenotypes. My goal is to utilize this model to predict the outcome of genetic perturbations and to employ genetic engineering strategies based on these simulation results.