Thesis title: The green horizon for biotech: a genome editing approach
Email contact: Jestin.George@student.uts.edu.au
Genetic engineering has enabled scientists to convert living cells –such as bacteria or yeast or even human cells– into bio-factories, to produce commercial products in big bioreactors. For example, insulin (for treating Diabetes) cannot be synthesised by human manufacturing. Before the 1980s, the only way we could commercially “manufacture” insulin was by extracting it from the livers of millions of pigs and cattle every year. Thanks to genetic engineering of bacterial cells to produce human insulin, we can now produce vast quantities of insulin in tiny factories: cellular bio-factories. So far, this has had profound impacts in medicine, specifically for producing biological drugs. But there are so many other applications which biological products could solve or improve. From bioplastics; biofuels; cosmetics; food supplements, colourants and even animal-free meat; washing detergents; chemicals for industrial processing; fibres for clothing; to many more; cell bio-factories have the potential to revolutionise technology and deliver new, more sustainable and cost effective solutions.
There are, however, hurdles to overcome in bringing this new age of biotechnology to life. So far bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells dominate the biotech platform, but each have their own drawbacks. As such, we are excited about the untapped potential of microalgae as cell factories. These unicellular, eukaryotic organisms offers a potentially cheaper and more sustainable alternative to more commonly used cells. In the C3 Algal Biofactory Research Program we are interested in developing a range of microalgal species for biotech applications using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. My research focuses on the marine diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, and the fresh water microagla, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
My project aims to tackle that task at the genome level, where there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding foreign gene integration and regulation. I aim to answer some of these crucial molecular questions using CRISPR -Cas9 genome editing technology to make these high potential microalgae better cell-factories.