Biological Conversion

The TIMBR Biological Conversion team aims to accelerate the refinement of consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) technology for cellulosic fuel and chemical production. The major hurdle to cellulosic production is the time-consuming and costly processes involving chemical pre-treatments and expensive enzymatic hydrolysis necessary to convert cellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars. CBP technology employs a novel bacterium that actively and efficiently decomposes cellulose to produce desired products.  Cellulose-fermenting cultures have produced prodigious amounts of bioproducts and hold great promise for providing viable feedstocks for industry.   The microbe possesses exceptional nutritional versatility and is capable of decomposing more components of biomass than most known microbes. It has demonstrated the ability to ferment unusually high concentrations of cellulose, and as cellulose concentrations are increased, the molar ratio of product to fermentation byproducts also increases. The unusual fermentation properties indicate it is an ideal organism for use in the commercial development of large-scale, direct cellulosic biomass conversion.

The goal of this team is to accrue a body of information essential for the development of CBP cellulosic conversion technology.  This group is identifying and characterizing the various cassettes of enzymatic machinery that enable the microbe to decompose cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, and starch. These studies include polysaccharide degradation machinery, substrate uptake mechanisms, and novel metabolic compartmentalization.

The team is also compiling complete expression profiles from whole-genome microarray analyses on a variety of simple and complex substrates.  Metabolic flux models are being developed to identify and alleviate production constraints and to optimize the conversion of biomass using computational techniques developed at the University of Massachusetts. 

There are also ongoing development efforts for genetic transformation systems to optimize CBP through the manipulation of genes and pathways identified via computer simulation.

Team Members

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Developing & applying genome-based technology. Biofuel production from ecologically & economically sustainable plant feedstocks. Molecular mechanisms involved in plant cell wall degradation. Microbial evolution.

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Microbial routes to biofuels, systems biology, bioprocess engineering

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Physiology and genomics of hyperthermophilic archaea that grow near 100°C and the geomicrobiology of the geothermal environments where these organisms are found

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Microbial physiology and diversity: microbial processes in soils and sediments, cellulose decomposition, biofilms on plant fibers; liquid fuels from biomass: harnessing the diversity of the microbial world and the power of genomics for energy solutions

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Aspects of biofilms: genetics of Listeriasp. biofilm growth; biological, physical & chemical aspects of bacterial adhesion, transfer & removal; & microbial diversity & ecology of biofilms within food processing environments

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An expert on chloroplast physiology, membrane and lipid biology, protein trafficking and plastid gene expression. His interests are in plastid transformation experiments and the redistribution of biomass to seed oil.