Current Research

Applying synthetic biology strategies for improved microbial fatty alcohol production

Medium chain fatty alcohols (mcFaOHs) (C8-C12) are a high value class of oleochemicals used in a wide
variety of commercial products, including personal care items, detergents, plasticizers, and lubricants.
Currently, mcFaOHs are sourced from unsustainable processes, specifically plant oils and petroleum.
Alternatively, mcFaOHs can also be sustainably produced by taking advantage of natural metabolic
processes in microorganisms. Through heterologous expression of the enzyme fatty acyl-thioester
reductase (FAR), fatty acyl species can be diverted from fatty acid biosynthesis and converted to the
corresponding fatty alcohol.
Currently, two major hurdles are preventing large-scale mcFaOH bioproduction: (1) FAR enzyme
specificity for medium chain species and (2) cytotoxicity of fatty alcohol products to the host organism.
Using protein engineering techniques, I am manipulating both the FAR enzyme for medium chain
specificity, as well as transporter proteins for improved mcFaOH export. Additionally, I am using adaptive
laboratory evolution to select for strains that are genetically adapted to the conditions of in situ fatty
alcohol production