The objective of our research is to understand and engineer the metabolism of biotechnologically important microorganisms in order to transform solar to chemical energy. Towards understanding, we study the metabolism of model prokaryotes (E. coli, fermentative; cyanobacteria, autotrophic) using both computational and experimental methods. In engineering, we are particularly interested in the design, construction and evaluation of synthetic metabolic pathways. The current research can be illustrated and broadly categorized as follows:
1) Synthetic metabolic pathways for industrial production of chemicals. We have an interest in creating solutions that consider all steps of the production chain, including separation and utility. The ideal metabolic pathway is not always available, and in that situation we seek to create synthetic routes for compounds without a known biological pathway, or chemicals with no known biogenic origin. A typical example of this work is the engineering of a synthetic pathway for biosynthesis of propane. In current projects we are also expanding these efforts beyond fuels and creating solutions that by-pass native host metabolic limitations.
2) Engineering cyanobacteria for chemicals production. Cyanobacteria can in theory be used as an easily amplified catalyst for the conversion of solar energy and carbon dioxide into chemicals. Currently, there is effectively no large-scale commercial production of chemicals using engineered cyanobacteria or algae. We would like to contribute towards the development and commercialisation of such technology, but work strictly in the early phase of proof-of-concept for strain development through genetic engineering. An example of this work is the construction of cyanobacteria strains that produce ethylene, incorporating molecular toolbox development work.
3) Understanding metabolism. In order to engineer metabolism it is first necessary to understand it. Our knowledge of cyanobacteria metabolism is in some cases quite limited. This work is mainly carried out on a systems level, including computational network analysis, genome-scale stoichiometric modelling and targeted or non-targeted proteomics. Most of this work is unpublished, an example is our joint work on text-mining with the Filip Ginter group at Univ. Turku.
(01.2011-12.2015) ERC project PhotoBioFuel, "Direct photobiological conversion of solar energy to volatile transport fuels" (EC no. 260661, consolidator).
(05.2013 -04.2016) FP7 ITN project PHOTO.COMM, "Design and engineering of photosynthetic aquatic communities for sustainable industrial use".. One ESR (PhD), David Malatinszky.
(10.2012-03.2017) FP7 Collaborative project DEMA, "Direct Ethanol from MicroAlgaea". Partner in consortium.
(01.09.2013-31.08.2017) Academy of Finland "Synthetic controllability of biological networks through understanding and engineering their control elements". Partner in consortium led by Tero Aitokallio (FIMM)
Research Student Supervision
Gallagher,D, Synthetic controllability of biological networks - Understanding and engineering control elements in metabolic systems