Synthetic biology of biofuel production in marine algae

Interdisciplinary Areas: Others

Project Description

Diatoms are a diverse group of photosynthetic unicellular aquatic algae. As major primary producers in the ocean, diatoms fix as much carbon as all rainforests combined. These prolific photosynthetic eukaryotes additionally store their fixed carbon as lipids, which are potential for biodiesel production. The remarkable photosynthetic light use efficiency of diatoms has been considered as a key factor behind their ecological prominence. The genetic and metabolic networks that underpin the increased photosynthetic productivity of diatoms, however, remain poorly characterized. Using the model diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum, we propose to decipher the regulatory networks of diatom light intensity acclimation.  We will employ a synthetic biology approach that first quantifies the gene expression and metabolic changes by transcriptomics, proteomics, and  then quantify the carbon partitioning by metabolic flux analysis. These experimental and computational pursuits will thereby illuminate the molecular pathways that maximize diatom photosynthesis and inform strategies for the metabolic engineering of diatoms for increased production of biofuel.

Start Date


Postdoc Qualifications

Previous laboratory experience with molecular cloning, aseptic growth of microorganisms, protein purification, enzyme assays. Analytical chemistry techniques of LC/MS and GC/MS. Mathematical modeling of metabolism is desired, but not required.
Strong writing and oral presentation skills to communicate with colleagues the results of research. 
Ability to train graduate and undergraduate students.
Works well in a team based research environment. 
Can work independently when necessary.
John A. Morgan,; Professor, Davidson School of Chemical Engineering
Sujith Puthiyaveetil ,; Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
1. Flux balance analysis of primary metabolism in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
NR Boyle, JA Morgan. BMC systems biology 3, 1-14. (2009)
2. Regulation of Phaeodactylum plastid gene transcription by redox, light, and circadian signals. GE Kayanja, IM Ibrahim, S Puthiyaveetil. Photosynthesis Research 147, 317-328. (2021)
3. Mapping photoautotrophic metabolism with isotopically nonstationary 13C flux analysis. JD Young, AA Shastri, G Stephanopoulos, JA Morgan
Metabolic engineering 13, 656-665. (2011)
4. An evolutionarily conserved iron-sulfur cluster underlies redox sensory function of the Chloroplast Sensor Kinase. IM Ibrahim, H Wu, R Ezhov, GE Kayanja, SD Zakharov, Y Du, WA Tao, et al. Communications biology 3 , 1-11. (2020)
5. Heterotrophic growth and lipid production of Chlorella protothecoides on glycerol. J O'Grady, JA Morgan. Bioprocess and biosystems engineering 34, 121-125. (2011)