Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 6 - 2012

James Swartz, Chemical Engineering
Julie Theriot, Biochemistry

Photosynthesis is the ultimate biotechnology: it uses a cheap, widely available energy source – the sun - to drive the production of chemicals and the sustenance of life itself. To help realize the great potential of photosynthetic organisms to contribute to industrial biotechnology, we seek to develop a series of tools to make cyanobacteria a more powerful platform for engineering and studying photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria have a complex physiology, including a fragmented genome and a thick cell wall, which has led to a lack of comprehensive tools to manipulate them; the scope of engineering projects has been similarly constrained. We will develop tools that address two serious bottlenecks: (1) reliable methods for genetic transformation, and (2) robust tools for controlling gene expression. These abilities will enable engineering projects in cyanobacteria that are far more sophisticated than those currently possible, and will make possible biological technologies that harness the power of sunlight to drive the production of the next generation of sustainable fuels and chemicals.