To date, most chemical compounds are still made via chemical processing with fossil fuels as raw materials. Due to voracious consumption and then unstable supply of fossil fuels, major environmental concern of climate change, stringent regulations for petro-based production, and motivation to “low carbon” economy, replacing petrochemical processes with biomass-biological strategies, so-called bio-based production or biomanufacturing, has been recognized as a modern technology for more renewable and sustainable manufacturing of chemical compounds. For bio-based production, cell factories, particularly microorganisms, with specialized metabolic pathways are adopted as whole-cell biocatalysts for conversion. Compared to in vitro chemical transformation, such in vivo biotransformation offers a significant processing simplicity and technological advantages, particularly for the production of structurally complex compounds, by driving multi-step reactions with high specificity in cultivated single cells.
To conduct bio-based production, it is critical to derive suitable microbial cell factories. Natural (i.e., wild-type) microorganisms often lack key genes/enzymes and pathways associated with the formation of target bioproducts, such as recombinant proteins (e.g., industrial enzymes, therapeutic proteins, antibodies, etc.) and chemical metabolites (e.g., biofuels, fine/value-added chemicals, biopolymers, etc.). Hence, they need to be properly "engineered" with various biotechnological tools, such as synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, and genetic engineering, which have been well developed over the past decades. Then, the "engineered" microorganisms can be cultivated in bioreactors for large-scale cell propagation and bioproduct formation. Finally, the cell culture will be processed for harvesting and purfication of the target bioproduct. While these are typical procedures for bioprocess development, one can easily imagine that strain engineering will critically determine the successful development and economical feasibility of most, if not all, bioprocesses.
Our research group is primarily involved in developing integrated biochemical, genetic, and metabolic engineering strategies to enhance bio-based production with bacteria as cell factories. With multidisciplinary expertise in fundamental biological sciences and applied biochemical engineering, we have developed innovative biotechnological strategies tackling various techical issues for bioprocess development, including upstream genetic manipulation for strain engineering, midstream fermentation technology for cell cultivation, and downstream processing for bioproduct harvest and purification, in the hope to make bio-based production more effective and economically feasible. Special research focus will given to strain engineering while we tackle all bioprocessing issues.
If you have suitable education and technical backgrounds, particularly in biotechnology and biochemical engineering, and are interested in conducting graduate study in our research group, I encourge you to read our publications and check the opportunities posted here for graduate study.