Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Center for Biotechnology
and Interdisciplinary Studies
Communities of microorganisms are ubiquitous in nature and play important roles in processes that directly impact human life, from environmental remediation, wastewater treatment and assistance in food digestion to biofouling, biofilm-related corrosion and hospital-acquired infections. Although most microorganisms are naturally found in complex communities with other microbes, there are few examples of engineered communities being used in chemical processes. Traditional approaches for combating microbial infections have also focused on single microorganisms. However, recent work has shown that interactions between organisms can have dramatic effects on virulence and disease progression.
Our research program focuses on fundamental and applied aspects of microbial consortia. This work combines multiscale modeling of biological networks (from gene to protein to organism to community), metabolic and biochemical engineering, synthetic biology and cell-cell communication with the complexities of coexisting communities of bacteria. Applications range from engineering biosensors, to bioprocessing, bioremediation and bio-energy production, and may also include the development of therapeutics that specifically target the balance between good and bad bacteria in the human body.
Engineering microbial ecosystems
Although most microorganisms are naturally found in complex communities with other microbes, there are few examples of engineered communities being used in chemical processes. We are engineering bacterial communities for applied problems in biofuel/bio-energy and pharmaceutical production. Our research strategy addresses the problem at three levels: (1) the development of engineered microbial communities, (2) engineered genetic networks for controlling gene expression, and (3) directed evolution/protein engineering to optimize enzymatic processes.
Novel antimicrobial strategies
Our second area of active research focuses on studying interactions between microbes with the goal of identifying new approaches for minimizing the harmful effects of microbes on human health and preventing the deterioration of materials due to biofouling and biofilm-related corrosion. These studies have the potential to lead to new therapeutic strategies and antimicrobial materials that specifically target microbial communities.