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My work aims to make bioproduction of high-value chemicals a custom and robust approach, in which well-defined biosynthetic parts are readily combined in "smart chassis" to yield custom products. This will enable biological synthesis to replicate what organic chemical synthesis does today, where scientists synthesize molecules by knowledge of the reaction rules and conditions and established starting material and equipment.
Research in my group involves a multi-disciplinary approach that begins with the identification of the biosynthetic pathways, continues with the engineering of the enzymes involved, and concludes with the reconstruction of the biosynthetic pathways in yeast to produce desirable compounds. We have developed expertise in the identification of enzymes related to plant natural product biosynthesis, addressed specific mechanistic aspects of the central molecules in terpenoid biosynthesis, terpene synthases and CYPs, and engineered these enzymes to yield a range of novel products. To support this approach, we developed a modular platform on which standardized and compatible parts can readily be combined to reconstruct the complexity of terpene biosynthesis. We were able to produce new natural products and rarely-reported compounds. Subsequently, we turned this platform into a screening tool to exploit transcriptomic, genomic, or metagenomic sequencing data for the elucidation of the biosynthesis of important compounds, like carnosic acid. Currently, our research focuses on the production of complex bioactive compounds (e.g. taxol), and on expanding the chemical universe of terpenoids with non-canonical compounds.