(6iv) Optimizing Metabolic Pathways for the Improved Production of Natural Products | AIChE

(6iv) Optimizing Metabolic Pathways for the Improved Production of Natural Products


Jones, J. A. - Presenter, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The fields of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology have enabled scientists and engineers to harness the power of biology to produce a wide variety of difficult to synthesize natural products. The high-titer microbial synthesis of these compounds is possible through the careful optimization of both internal genetic elements and external fermentation conditions. Although, recent advances have shown proof-of-concept microbial production of many classes of compounds, many systems still result in non-industrially feasible titers. This less than desirable production is, in part, due to the high metabolic burden of expressing extensive extrinsic pathways in a single microbial strain. My research is focused on the development of novel strategies for reducing metabolic burden while optimizing the level of pathway overexpression to maximize the production of natural products in vivo.

My graduate work has concentrated on the development of strategies to improve and optimize metabolic pathways from a genetic and fermentation perspective. I have improved the bioconversion of flavanones to catechins through gene copy number balancing, elevated the production of violacein through balancing the transcriptional profile of the pathway genes, and developed a novel co-culture strategy for the production of catechins from their phenylpropanoic acid precursors. Each of the aforementioned projects has resulted in the highest reported product titer at the time of publication. Furthermore, to illustrate my passion for undergraduate education, I have developed a series of laboratory experiments to probe gene expression, pathway balancing, and fermentation optimization using the colorful violacein pathway. These laboratory exercises were designed to be cheaply implemented in a variety of biotechnology and bioengineering lab courses. Future applications of these technologies towards improving the microbial production of biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and commodity chemicals could expedite the transition from the laboratory to the marketplace.

As a graduate student at RPI I have had the opportunity to work with and mentor many talented undergraduate students. This rewarding and beneficial experience has pushed me to pursue a career teaching and mentoring undergraduate students at an undergraduate-focused university. While continuing to enhance my teaching effectiveness in the classroom, I will also work with undergraduates in the laboratory to help develop a competence in and a love for biotechnology research. Through my mentorship, I hope to develop young minds into life-long learners with a passion for improving the world around them through service, scholarship, and scientific research.