Host: Professor Kyle Lauersen
By some estimates, algae are responsible for 50% of global photosynthesis. These ancient organisms are pervasive in environments ranging from Antarctic ice floes to the hottest deserts, and can survive heat, cold, intense light, starvation, desiccation and many other stresses. For decades Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a unicellular Chlorophyte (green alga), has been the workhorse model system for investigating algal biology, and much of what we know about green lineage photosynthesis and eukaryotic flagella/cilia comes from genetic, physiological and biophysical analyses of this species. However, advances in genome sequencing and gene editing technologies have made it much easier to study the genetics and biochemistry of diverse algae with biotechnology applications. Targeted gene replacement by homologous recombination has been demonstrated in three oleaginous (oil-producing) algae species, Nannochloropsis oceanica, Prototheca moriformis and Auxenochlorella protothecoides, and these organisms have been engineered to synthesize high value compounds, including tailored oils for fuel, nutrition, personal care and therapeutic applications. After 10 years of manipulating algae in the industrial setting I have returned to academic research to develop Auxenochlorella as a reference for discovery and a platform for photosynthesis-driven synthetic biology and sustainable bio-production.
From Barbados (home of Rihanna); B.Sc. in Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, San Diego; Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, with Sabeeha Merchant, studied acclimation responses to Cu and Fe starvation in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii; Post-doctoral research with Arthur Grossman at Carnegie Institution, studied the interplay between phosphorus and sulfur nutrition in Chlamydomonas. Scientist at Aurora Biofuels for 1 year, engineered Nannochloropsis to increase photosynthetic productivity, evolved strains with enhanced resistance to pest control agents; Senior and Principal Scientist at Solazyme/TerraVia Inc., created commercial algae butter strains from Prototheca; Chief of Genetics at Phycoil Biotechnology for 3 years, developed Auxenochlorella protothecoides transformation, gene-targeting, generating strains with altered fatty acid, carotenoid and phytosterol profiles. Returned to academia in 2020, Associate in Sabeeha Merchant's lab at UC Berkeley, coPI on US Department of Energy grant to expand the Auxenochlorella engineering toolkit and develop strains to make bio-jet fuel precursors.