Bioenergy and the Environment research at UCLA aims for the development of advanced biofuels and chemical feedstocks, using genetic reengineering of enzymes and reprogramming of microbial cells by advanced synthetic biology.
To this end, analysis of algal and other microbial genomes for discovery of new enzymes and pathways for energy production are actively being carried out, along with analysis of algal and other microbial genomes for discovery of new enzymes and pathways for energy production.
Other areas of development involves the design and synthesis of biomaterials for CO2 capture, and development of statistical methods for more rapid discovery of useful genes.
Faculty Research Summaries
Professor Soumitra Athavale
The Athavale group has broad interest in synthetic organic chemistry, (bio)molecular evolution and chemical biology, with research encompassing four main themes: (1) synthetic methodology and biocatalysis, (2) design principles of synthetic evolutionary systems, (3) fundamental relationships in enzyme structure and function, and (4) engineering enzymes as next-generation therapeutics.
Professor James U. Bowie
Professor James Bowie and his group are fascinated by protein structure, folding and stabilization. This interest has led them into three main areas: (1) learning how membrane proteins fold and how they can be stabilized; (2) the structures and biological functions of a biological polymer they discovered, that is formed by a very common protein module called a SAM domain; (3) developing and stabilizing enzyme pathways for the production of biofuels.
Professor Robert T. Clubb
Professor Robert Clubb is developing methods to produce biofuels from sustainable plant biomass. Lignocellulosic plant biomass is an attractive feedstock for the sustainable production of biofuels, chemicals, and materials because it is renewable, highly abundant, and inexpensive. A major obstacle limiting its industrial use is the lack of low-cost technologies to degrade lignocellulose into its component sugars. Using synthetic biology methods, his group is engineering microbes to display surface multi-enzyme complexes that enable them to breakdown plant biomass efficiently. Ultimately, they hope to use this technology to create a consolidated bioprocessor, a single microbe that has the ability to convert lignocellulose into biofuels and other valuable commodities.
Professor David S. Eisenberg
Professor David Eisenberg and his research group focus on protein interactions. In their experiments they study the structural basis for conversion of normal proteins to the amyloid state and conversion of prions to the infectious state. In bioinformatic work, they derive information on protein interactions from genomic and proteomic data, and design inhibitors of amyloid toxicity.
Professor Juli Feigon
Professor Juli Feigon and her research group study nucleic acid structure and specific recognition of nucleic acids by proteins. Her group focuses on determining the three-dimensional structures of DNA and RNA, and on investigating their interactions with various proteins and ligands, and to study nucleic acid folding.
Professor Abby Kavner
Professor Kavner’s experimental research program seeks to understand equilibrium and transport properties of materials under extreme conditions of high pressure and high temperature. In addition, the Kavner research group investigates how kinetic isotope effects can help illuminate overall reaction kinetics in processes that combine fluid flow and electrochemistry.
Professor Michael Robert Lawson
Normal and problematic mRNAs are translated differently by ribosomes, with the former being released for translation again and the latter targeted for decay. The Lawson lab aims to understand the interactions between ribosomes, mRNA sequence and structure, and specialized decay factors that drive these decisions, using a range of biochemical and structural techniques. Ultimately, a better understanding of these mechanisms could lead to new treatments for the 11% of heritable human diseases associated with premature stop codons.
Professor Chong Liu
Professor Chong Liu’s research group is an inorganic chemistry lab with specific interests in electrochemical systems for energy, biology, and environments. Combining his expertise in inorganic chemistry, nanomaterials, and electrochemistry, his research group aims to address some of the challenging questions in catalysis, energy conversion, CO2/N2 fixation, and microbiota. Their research focus includes advanced bioelectrochemical systems of CO2/N2 fixation as well as electrochemical nanodevices enabling the study of biological, medical, environmental applications.
Professor Hannah Shafaat
The Shafaat Group is focused on metalloenzymes that carry out small molecule activation reactions. We combine protein design with many types of spectroscopy and computational tools to probe catalytic mechanisms, which guides development of efficient and robust bioinorganic systems that can address challenges in alternative energy, sustainability, and human health.
Professor Todd O. Yeates
Professor Todd Yeates and his group focus heavily on structural, computational, and synthetic biology aspects of chemistry. The group’s emphasis is on supra-molecular protein assemblies and synthetically designed protein assemblies, and conducts research in computational genomics in order to infer protein function and to learn new cell biology.