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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