C3 Seminar: A/Professor Claudia Vickers
Synthetic biology tools for engineering metabolic pathways and networks
We use advanced systems and synthetic biology approaches to (a) understand metabolic regulation of the isoprenoid group of natural products, and (b) engineer production of industrially-useful biochemicals. The overall aim of the program is to develop a sufficiently complete understanding of biology such that predictable, reproducible engineering can be achieved.
Isoprenoids (terpenes/terpenoids) represent an ideal model system to investigate this challenge. Isoprenoids are an extremely large and diverse group of natural compounds with myriad biological functions, including roles in photosynthesis, respiration, signaling, membrane biosynthesis, and as pigments, hormones, virulence factors, vitamins, etc. They also have many industrial uses, ranging from specialized applications (e.g. anti-cancer and anti-malarial pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals) through to bulk chemicals (e.g., food colours, fragrances, rubbers, agricultural chemicals, and fuel replacements). However, extracting these compounds from natural sources or chemically synthesizing them is often unfeasible, making them ideal targets for metabolic engineering.
Through our studies, we have developed a number of new tools and techniques that help us understand metabolic regulation of pathway flux and achieve controlled cellular behaviour. These include tools for inserting large amounts of DNA onto the E. coli chromosome at well-defined loci, yeast expression vectors to drive expression of multiple genes simultaneously, modules to control cell density-dependent gene expression, plant transformation vectors and reporter systems, novel approaches to understand pathway flux, and software for managing complex molecular engineering projects.
This presentation will detail the available synthetic biology tools with examples of their application in isoprenoid production.
Light refreshments provided after talk - All are welcome!
About the speaker
A/Professor Claudia Vickers is Director of the CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform and Group Leader in the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at The University of Queensland (UQ). She completed her PhD in cereal crop biotechnology at CSIRO Plant Industry and UQ in 2004. She held post-doctoral and Visiting Scientist positions at Essex and Lancaster Universities in the UK 2004-2007, where she worked on abiotic stress and the metabolic regulation and physiological function of volatile isoprenoids in plants. She returned to UQ in 2007, joining the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology to expand her research program into microbial metabolic engineering.
Since then she has headed a group focussed on converting agricultural biomass to industrially-useful biochemicals using advanced synthetic and systems biology approaches. Target compounds sit in the isoprenoid group of natural products, and include jet fuel, plant hormones for agricultural applications, food additives (flavours, colours, etc.), fragrances, and pharmaceuticals. Since January 2017 A/Professor Vickers has held a joint appointment with the Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO) to lead the CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform (SynBioFSP), a $30 M research and development program aimed at expanding Australia’s capability in synthetic biology.