I am motivated by a desire find alternatives to our petroleum-driven way of life. For biobased-production to live up to its promise, I believe academic results must be translated into industrial success stories, setting examples that this is possible.
For my PhD studies in the department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University I worked on a elucidating a very fundamental biochemical process – the protein machinery that builds the E. coli outer membrane. The environment was very academic, with little exposure to industry, so I sought out a more applied project for my postdoc.
I joined the laboratory of Professor James Liao at UCLA to gain experience in metabolic engineering. There I worked on redirecting central metabolism in E. coli and cyanobacteria and supervised a team of 3 PhD students and 2 technicians, who all worked on parts of one large collaborative project.
After my postdoctoral training I finally wanted to apply my skills in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology towards commercialization of cell factories. So, one year ago, I joined Biosyntia, as its first full-time researcher. I spend part of my time in the laboratory working on our technology and part of my time on project management. I think the environment here at Biosyntia is ideal for a PhD fellow who is not only interested in developing sustainable production processes, but is also curious in how those processes can be commercialized. This is a unique view that not many PhD programs offer.
Biosyntia is a young startup company – meaning that we have only been around for a few years and also that we have a young and dynamic team. We are enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by synthetic biology and we are motivated to apply these methods to real-world problems and accelerate the development of renewable chemicals. In addition to the founders and a chairman, our team currently consists of three full-time PhD level scientists and a PhD student who works with us part-time. We work in a very collaborative way, frequently sharing results and knowledge and exchanging ideas.
While Biosyntia is still small, we are fully integrated into the Center for Biosustainability of the Danish Technical University, sharing laboratory and office space with researchers in the center. This not only gives us access to top-of-the-line equipment, but also expands our scientific and social network. We participate in the seminars offered by the center and have stimulating discussions with our colleagues there. The new PhD fellow will be working in this multicultural environment alongside graduate students from several different research groups at DTU.
As a co-founder of Biosyntia, Professor Morten Sommer is involved in scientific planning and discussions and he will take part in the training of the PhD fellow.
About the project
Project 14: Cell factories are clearly starting to play an increasingly important role in the production of fine or commodity chemicals. However, the more complex the molecule of interest, the harder it is to actually engineer a high-producing cell factory. Numerous genes affect production of the final product and modifying many steps and testing the large number of resulting strains still gives metabolic engineers trouble.
RNA-based sensors offer a very exciting new way to screen large libraries, since the sensor can be used to detect the molecule of interest and that signal can be translated into a screenable or selectable result. At Biosyntia we use this technology to speed up cell factory development.
This project will involve synthetic biology aspects of developing a tuneable RNA-based sensor for the amino acid tryptophan (in collaboration with TUD), which will then be applied in a cell-factory setting to sense actual production. Metabolic engineering strategies will be used to modify the tryptophan biosynthetic pathway and the sensor will be used to screen for a high-yielding cell factory. The work will involve techniques such as FACS, advanced cloning techniques and construction and screening of libraries, metabolic engineering, use of high-throughput robotic assays, and small scale fermentations. The fellow will also get a firsthand look at the bio-business aspects of how RNA-based sensors can reduce development costs and timelines.