A Multi-Scale Approach to Plant Specialized Metabolic Engineering

Originally delivered Feb 24, 2021
  • Type:
    Archived Webinar
  • Level:
    Intermediate
  • Duration:
    1 hour
  • PDHs:
    1.00

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Our research is focused on cellular engineering and design of bioprocesses using plant-based systems. Plants produce sophisticated small molecules that play key roles in defense against predators and environmental elements. These natural products are synthesized through specialized metabolic pathways, that have both shared and unique components when compared amongst plant systems.

These specialized metabolites are useful in a variety of societal applications including as nutraceuticals, flavorings, colorings and pharmaceuticals. The supply of these compounds is often hindered due to low yields in nature and the inability to chemically synthesize at scale. We use plant cell culture technology as both a system of study and a scalable production system due to the ability to engineer cells and the environment to optimize accumulation of products of interest.

Today, I will present our story of understanding and optimizing paclitaxel production in Taxus plant cell suspension culture using a multi-pronged cellular engineering approach (intracellular, intercellular and extracellular scales). I will focus on our recent approaches and results in considering global specialized metabolism, specialized metabolite transport and epigenetic mechanisms.

Our group uses a combination of traditional bioprocess engineering techniques (e.g., bioreactor design, cell culture, cell encapsulation), modern molecular biology and analytical chemistry techniques (e.g., gene transfer, transcriptomics analyses, UPLC) and mathematical modeling (e.g., genome scale modeling, metabolic flux analyses). Our research has been funded largely through the NSF, NIH and industrial collaborations.

Example projects include metabolic engineering of paclitaxel (FDA approved anti-cancer agent) synthesis in plant cell culture; manipulation of cellular aggregation to enhance plant cell growth and product formation; establishing early predictors of embryo yield success from somatic embryogenesis cultures for clonal propagation of superior plants; fundamental understanding of the interaction between primary and specialized metabolism in plant systems for directed biosynthesis; and design of plant-animal co-culture systems to exploit the unknown interactions between the species to identify new products and understand fundamental interactions.

Prof. Roberts’ group uses a combination of traditional bioprocess engineering techniques (e.g., bioreactor design, cell culture, cell encapsulation), modern molecular biology and analytical chemistry techniques (e.g., gene transfer, transcriptomics analyses, UPLC) and mathematical modeling (e.g., genome scale modeling, metabolic flux analyses). Prof. Roberts’ research has been funded largely through the NSF, NIH and industrial collaborations.

Presenter(s): 

Susan Roberts

Dr. Susan Roberts is Professor and Head of Chemical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). She received her BS degree in Chemical Engineering from WPI in 1992, PhD in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 1998, served on the faculty at UMass Amherst Chemical Engineering for 17 years and joined WPI as Professor and Head in 2015. Dr. Roberts’ research interests are in biomanufacturing, cellular engineering and cell culture, with a primary focus on plant-based systems for synthesis of natural products. She has...Read more

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