The laboratory focuses on genetic engineering of metabolic pathways of microbes for production of biofuels and chemicals. bennettwork In order to construct an effective biocatalyst and carry out effective modification of the metabolic pattern of cells, knowledge of the native regulatory processes, enzymes and pathways of the microbe must be understood. We study the responses of bacteria to stresses either encountered in nature or in an industrial fermentor, such as pH, oxygen limitation or salt concentration. These fundamental studies have developed our approaches to metabolic engineering: cofactor engineering-the modification of the availability of redox factors such as NADH; the “cellular refinery” approach of producing multiple compatible products during a process; and the modeling and use of available genetic resources from the large genomic and biochemical databases for optimal metabolic performance.
Other areas of research involve Clostridium acetobutylicum where we seek to understand and manipulate genes related to butanol production. Efforts are also under way to study the genetic and biochemical basis of biodegradation of nitroaromatic and other hazardous compounds by this soil bacterium. Development of novel DNA technology for assembling gene constructs and introducing multiple chromosomal changes to enhance microbial genetic engineering via “synthetic biology” is also an ongoing project.