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Hydrocarbons and cuticular lipids

Simple hydrocarbons (e.g. n-alkanes and n-alkenes), that are at the chemical level identical to currently used gasoline and diesel fuels, occur discreetly in biological systems. Some algae and photosynthetic microbial systems accumulate simple hydrocarbons in large quantities as a means of storing carbon and energy.  Other organisms, such as plants and insects produce these compounds as part of the cuticle, which acts as a water barrier at the interface between the organism and the environment.

The goal of this project is to identify the mechanisms by which biological systems generate simple hydrocarbons, and isolate the genetic and biocatalytic elements that are required for hydrocarbon biosynthesis. The strategy that is being applied seeks to identify hydrocarbon-producing biocatalysts that will be identified by comparing the transciptomes of four independent biological systems that we can manipulate to either developmentally or via environmental effectors express high- or low-levels of hydrocarbons.  Those transcripts/genes whose expression correlates with the accumulation of hydrocarbons among all four systems will be the focus of further study in order to decipher their role in hydrocarbon biosynthesis.  These isolated genes will then be used to establish a biocatalytic-based technology for the generation of a second-generation biofuels based on biologically derived hydrocarbons.

Current researchers

Liza Alexander, PhD student, Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology
Rupam Bhunia, postdoctoral research associate
Alexis Campbell, associate scientist
Keting Chen, PhD student, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology
Kenna Goodlaxson, PhD student, Biochemistry
Bri Vidrine, PhD student, Interdepartmental Genetics

Past researchers

Jennifer Chmielowski, PhD student, Biochemistry
Sam Condon, undergraduate student, Biochemistry
Geng Ding, assistant scientist
Adarsh Jose, PhD student, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology
Derek Loneman, undergraduate student, Biochemistry
Umnia Mahgoub, undergraduate student, Genetics
Wenmin Qin, postdoctoral research associate
Robyn Rourke, undergraduate student, Biochemistry
Marna Yandeau-Nelson, associate scientist

Funding Organization

National Science Foundation