Bioenergy and the Environment Research

Bioenergy and the Environment research at UCLA seeks to develop advanced biofuels and biomaterials by genetically reengineering enzymes and reprogramming microbial cells using modern synthetic biology methods. Ongoing research seeks to reengineer microbes to convert plant material into fuels and chemicals, and is analyzing algal and other microbial genomes to discover new enzymes and pathways for energy production. We are also developing new statistical methods for more rapid discovery of useful genes, and designing and synthesizing novel biomaterials for CO2 capture. 


Faculty Research Summaries

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.


James U. Bowie

James U. Bowie

Dr. 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.

Robert T. Clubb

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.

Sri Kosuri

The Kosuri laboratory develops and combines three recent technologies: DNA synthesis, DNA sequencing, and genome engineering. First, the lab develop methods to build large libraries of synthetic DNA sequences using low-cost DNA microarrays. This allows them to build thousands to millions of designed constructs for modest cost. Second, they develop new measurement technologies using next-generation sequencing that allows the lab to test the functionality of these synthetic DNA libraries simultaneously. Finally, using new genomic engineering technologies, the Kosuri lab can do these large-scale synthesis/sequencing experiments in a wide-variety of cell types and organisms. 

James C. Liao

Professor James Liao and his group focus on metabolism, including its biochemistry, extension, and regulation. His group uses metabolic engineering,synthetic biology, and systems biology to construct microorganisms to produce next generation biofuels and to study the obesity problem in human. Their ultimate goal is to use biochemical methods to replace petroleum processing and to treat metabolic diseases.


Sabeeha S. Merchant

The Merchant research program focuses on trace metal metabolism using Chlamydomonas as a reference organism. The group uses a combination of classical genetics, genomics and biochemistry to discover mechanisms of trace metal homeostasis in Chlamydomonas, especially mechanisms for reducing the quota or for recycling in situations of deficiency.


Jose Rodriguez

Prof. Rodriguez studies the complex architecture of biological systems - from single biomolecules to cellular assemblies - at high resolution. His work is largely based on diffraction phenomena and combines computational, biochemical and biophysical experiments. The development of new methods is central to this work, particularly using emerging technologies in cryo-electron microscopy, nano and coherent x-ray diffraction, and macromolecular design. Combined, these tools can reveal undiscovered structures that broadly influence chemistry, biology, and medicine.

Todd Yeates

In the area of structural biology, the Yeates lab's emphasis is on supra-molecular protein assemblies. Much of the lab's recent work has focused on bacterial microcompartments -- extraordinary protein assemblies comprised of thousands of subunits reminiscent of viral capsids. These assemblies encapsulate a series of enzymes within a protein shell, which controls the transport of substrates and products into and out of the microcompartment interior and serve as primitive metabolic organelles in many bacteria. The lab's structural studies on these systems provided the first three-dimensional views of the shell proteins, and have generated long-needed mechanistic hypotheses for how bacterial microcompartments function.