RESEARCH

UNCOVER NEW BIOLOGY AND CHEMISTRY FROM MICROBES

Microbial cells are natural biologists and chemists possessing a enormous collection of biocatalysts suitable for precise and complicated reactions. These reactions are often essential in the production of molecules that have huge impact on the therapeutic, agricultural, and environment applications. Our lab is interested in uncovering new biology and chemistry from three sources: environmental bacteria, gut anaerobes, and conjugative plasmids.

Environmental bacteria

Environmental bacteria synthesize a large array of natural products to cooperate or compete with neighboring neighboring microbes that coexist in the same habitat (sometimes with undesired environmental stress). The extremely diverse bioactivities have made these natural products attractive for agricultural and therapeutic applications. We are interested in discovering bioactive natural products from microbes and elucidating their biosynthesis. A thorough understanding of how the bioactive natural products are synthesized by the Nature will facilitate the development of biomanufacturing platforms for novel pharmaceuticals, pesticides, etc. 

Gut anaerobes

Emerging evidence demonstrates large metabolic potential of the gut microbiota in modifying the structures and hence the properties of xenobiotics. The consequences associated with such modifications can be severe, for example, causing treatment delays and adverse impacts on individuals’ physical and mental health. However, the gut bacterial genes and enzymes responsible remain poorly understood, preventing precision medication based on an individual’s gut microbiome. To address this challenge, we aim to discover and characterize the responsible enzymes. The accomplishment of this project can facilitate precision medicine based on an individual’s gut microbiome. From the engineering perspective, the accomplishment will also expand our collection of biocatalysts for sophisticated chemistry. 

Conjugative plasmids

Conjugative plasmids are extra-chromosomal genetic elements that can self transfer between bacterial cells. Although they are notorious for the spread of antibiotic resistance, the plasmids have genes encoding uncharacterized catalytic or structural proteins. We are elucidating the functions of those protein-coding genes for biotechnology and therapeutic applications. 

ENGINEER MICROBES

Natural products and their derivatives have been widely used for the treatment of bacterial infections, metabolic disorders, cancers, and other diseases. The synthesis of these products has always been challenging. Our lab is exploring ways to reconstitute and reprogram biosynthetic pathways in fast-growing and genetic tractable microbes to produce both natural and unnatural products with new biological activities.

RESEARCH SPONSORED BY:

NIH_NIGMS_R35 (single PI)
Welch Foundation (single PI)
NSF_EFRI (co-PI)
TAMU T3 grant (co-PI)
Texas A&M startup funds