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Identification of aromatic-inducible promoters and heterologous biosensors as tuning elements for styrene production in E. coli

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One of the primary bottlenecks to chemical production in biological organisms is the toxicity of the chemical. Overexpression of efflux pumps has been shown to increase tolerance to aromatic compounds such as styrene and styrene oxide. Tight control of pum

One of the primary bottlenecks to chemical production in biological organisms is the toxicity of the chemical. Overexpression of efflux pumps has been shown to increase tolerance to aromatic compounds such as styrene and styrene oxide. Tight control of pump expression is necessary to maximize titers and prevent excessive strain on the cells. This study aimed to identify aromatic-sensitive native promoters and heterologous biosensors for construction of closed-loop control of efflux pump expression in E. coli. Using a promoter library constructed by Zaslaver et al., activation was measured through GFP output. Promoters were evaluated for their sensitivity to the addition of one of four aromatic compounds, their "leaking" of signal, and their induction threshold. Out of 43 targeted promoters, 4 promoters (cmr, mdtG, yahN, yajR) for styrene oxide, 2 promoters (mdtG, yahN) for styrene, 0 promoters for 2-phenylethanol, and 1 promoter for phenol (pheP) were identified as ideal control elements in aromatic bioproduction. In addition, a series of three biosensors (NahR, XylS, DmpR) known to be inducible by other aromatics were screened against styrene oxide, 2-phenylethanol, and phenol. The targeted application of these biosensors is aromatic-induced activation of linked efflux pumps. All three biosensors responded strongly in the presence of styrene oxide and 2-phenylethanol, with minor activation in the presence of phenol. Bioproduction of aromatics continues to gain traction in the biotechnology industry, and the continued discovery of aromatic-inducible elements will be essential to effective pathway control.

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2018-05

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Assessment of Metabolic Engineering in Bioprocess Engineering and Industrial Applications

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The field of bioprocess engineering has become an increasingly popular route to produce chemicals and fuels in a sustainable fashion. Bioprocessing is an interdisciplinary field that joins chemical engineering, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology to tackle problems that will arise

The field of bioprocess engineering has become an increasingly popular route to produce chemicals and fuels in a sustainable fashion. Bioprocessing is an interdisciplinary field that joins chemical engineering, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology to tackle problems that will arise from the ongoing use of products derived from non-renewable resources. This study will overlook two effective tools that are widely used in the bioprocessing field. The first tool that was studied was strain optimization for biochemical production. This involves genetic manipulation of microbial hosts to create strains that are more efficient at producing the desired products. The second tool that was studied was adaptive laboratory evolution which is used to enhance overall cellular fitness. Enhancing the overall fitness and efficiency of these microbial production factories, allows for innovation and growth in the biochemical industry. Creating sustainable and renewable solutions for both specialty and commodity chemicals.
Strain optimization was specifically studied by enhancing inorganic carbon uptake in synechococcus sp. 7002. It is desired to have both high flux and high affinity transport for the rapid and efficient uptake of HCO3- for enhanced cell growth. The results found that the regulatory gene for carbon transporters in synechococcus genome was successfully deleted. Increasing the toxicity limits of 2-Phenylethanol was done by using adaptive laboratory evolution (ALE). ALE is a widely used practice in biotechnology studies to gain insights on mechanisms of molecular evolution and to better define the functionality of microbial cell factories. It was found that after growing E. coli BW25113 under selective conditions the genome evolved for a higher fitness medium with an increased concentration of 2-Phenylethanol. Overall, two key tools used in bioprocess engineering were successful studied to gain a better insight on the future of biochemical production industry.

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2019-05

Heterogeneous Catalysis for Organic Reactions

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This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel

This honors thesis is focused on two separate catalysis projects conducted under the mentorship of Dr. Javier Pérez-Ramírez at ETH Zürich. The first project explored ethylene oxychlorination over supported europium oxychloride catalysts. The second project investigated alkyne semihydrogenation over nickel phosphide catalysts. This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

Project 1 Abstract: Ethylene Oxychlorination
The current two-step process for the industrial process of vinyl chloride production involves CuCl2 catalyzed ethylene oxychlorination to ethylene dichloride followed by thermal cracking of the latter to vinyl chloride. To date, no industrial application of a one-step process is available. To close this gap, this work evaluates a wide range of self-prepared supported CeO2 and EuOCl catalysts for one-step production of vinyl chloride from ethylene in a fixed-bed reactor at 623 773 K and 1 bar using feed ratios of C2H4:HCl:O2:Ar:He = 3:3 6:1.5 6:3:82 89.5. Among all studied systems, CeO2/ZrO2 and CeO2/Zeolite MS show the highest activity but suffer from severe combustion of ethylene, forming COx, while 20 wt.% EuOCl/γ-Al2O3 leads to the best vinyl chloride selectivity of 87% at 15.6% C2H4 conversion with complete suppression of CO2 formation and only 4% selectivity to CO conversion for over 100 h on stream. Characterization by XRD and EDX mapping reveals that much of the Eu is present in non-active phases such as Al2Eu or EuAl4, indicating that alternative synthesis methods could be employed to better utilize the metal. A linear relationship between conversion and metal loading is found for this catalyst, indicating that always part of the used Eu is available as EuOCl, while the rest forms inactive europium aluminate species. Zeolite-supported EuOCl slightly outperforms EuOCl/γ Al2O3 in terms of total yield, but is prone to significant coking and is unstable. Even though a lot of Eu seems locked in inactive species on EuOCl/γ Al2O3, these results indicate possible savings of nearly 16,000 USD per kg of catalyst compared to a bulk EuOCl catalyst. These very promising findings constitute a crucial step for process intensification of polyvinyl chloride production and exploring the potential of supported EuOCl catalysts in industrially-relevant reactions.

Project 2 Abstract: Alkyne Semihydrogenation
Despite strongly suffering from poor noble metal utilization and a highly toxic selectivity modifier (Pb), the archetypal catalyst applied for the three-phase alkyne semihydrogenation, the Pb-doped Pd/CaCO3 (Lindlar catalyst), is still being utilized at industrial level. Inspired by the very recent strategies involving the modification of Pd with p-block elements (i.e., S), this work extrapolates the concept by preparing crystalline metal phosphides with controlled stoichiometry. To develop an affordable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional hydrogenation catalysts, nickel, a metal belonging to the same group as Pd and capable of splitting molecular hydrogen has been selected. Herein, a simple two-step synthesis procedure involving nontoxic precursors was used to synthesize bulk nickel phosphides with different stoichiometries (Ni2P, Ni5P4, and Ni12P5) by controlling the P:Ni ratios. To uncover structural and surface features, this catalyst family is characterized with an array of methods including X-ray diffraction (XRD), 31P magic-angle nuclear magnetic resonance (MAS-NMR) spectroscopy, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). Bulk-sensitive techniques prove the successful preparation of pure phases while XPS analysis unravels the facile passivation occurring at the NixPy surface that persists even after reductive treatment. To assess the characteristic surface fingerprints of these materials, Ar sputtering was carried out at different penetration depths, reveling the presence of Ni+ and P-species. Continuous-flow three-phase hydrogenations of short-chain acetylenic compounds display that the oxidized layer covering the surface is reduced under reaction conditions, as evidenced by the induction period before reaching the steady state performance. To assess the impact of the phosphidation treatment on catalytic performance, the catalysts were benchmarked against a commercial Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 sample. While Ni/SiO2-Al2O3 presents very low selectivity to the alkene (the selectivity is about 10% at full conversion) attributed to the well-known tendency of naked nickel nanoparticles to form hydrides, the performance of nickel phosphides is highly selective and independent of P:Ni ratio. In line with previous findings on PdxS, kinetic tests indicate the occurrence of a dual-site mechanism where the alkyne and hydrogen do not compete for the same site.

This work is the subject of a publication of which I am a co-author, as cited below.

D. Albani; K. Karajovic; B. Tata; Q. Li; S. Mitchell; N. López; J. Pérez-Ramírez. Ensemble Design in Nickel Phosphide Catalysts for Alkyne Semi-Hydrogenation. ChemCatChem 2019. doi.org/10.1002/cctc.201801430

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2019-05

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Improving Biochemical Production in Escherichia coli through Nutrient Limitation

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Escherichia coli is a bacterium that is used widely in metabolic engineering due to its ability to grow at a fast rate and to be cultured easily. E. coli can be engineered to produce many valuable chemicals, including biofuels and

Escherichia coli is a bacterium that is used widely in metabolic engineering due to its ability to grow at a fast rate and to be cultured easily. E. coli can be engineered to produce many valuable chemicals, including biofuels and L-Phenylalanine—a precursor to many pharmaceuticals. Significant cell growth occurs in parallel to the biosynthesis of the desired biofuel or biochemical product, and limits product concentrations and yields. Stopping cell growth can improve chemical production since more resources will go toward chemical production than toward biomass. The goal of the project is to test different methods of controlling microbial uptake of nutrients, specifically phosphate, to dynamically limit cell growth and improve biochemical production of E. coli, and the research has the potential to promote public health, sustainability, and environment. This can be achieved by targeting phosphate transporter genes using CRISPRi and CRISPR, and they will limit the uptake of phosphate by targeting the phosphate transporter genes in DNA, which will stop transcriptions of the genes. In the experiment, NST74∆crr∆pykAF, a L-Phe overproducer, was used as the base strain, and the pitA phosphate transporter gene was targeted in the CRISPRi and CRISPR systems with the strain with other phosphate transporters knocked out. The tested CRISPRi and CRISPR mechanisms did not stop cell growth or improved L-Phe production. Further research will be conducted to determine the problem of the system. In addition, the CRISPRi and CRISPR systems that target multiple phosphate transporter genes will be tested in the future as well as the other method of stopping transcriptions of the phosphate transporter genes, which is called a tunable toggle switch mechanism.

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2018-05

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Engineering High Yield Production of L-Serine in Cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002

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Cyanobacteria have the potential to efficiently produce L-serine, an industrially important amino acid, directly from CO2 and sunlight, which is a more sustainable and inexpensive source of energy as compared to current methods. The research aims to engineer a strain

Cyanobacteria have the potential to efficiently produce L-serine, an industrially important amino acid, directly from CO2 and sunlight, which is a more sustainable and inexpensive source of energy as compared to current methods. The research aims to engineer a strain of Cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 that increases L-serine production by mutating regulatory mechanisms that natively inhibit its production and encoding an exporter. While an excess of L-serine was not found in the supernatant of the cell cultures, with further fine tuning of the metabolic pathway and culture conditions, high titers of L-serine can be found. With the base strain engineered, the work can be extended and optimized by deleting degradation pathways, tuning gene expression levels, optimizing growth conditions, and investigating the effects of nitrogen supplementation for the strain.

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2020-05

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Construction of Recombinant Plasmids of Corynebacterium glutamicum for Flavonoid Production

Description

Due to the wide range of health properties flavonoids possess, flavonoids are sold in health supplements to the general public. Flavonoids are also utilized in research but have a high cost due to current production techniques. This project focuses on

Due to the wide range of health properties flavonoids possess, flavonoids are sold in health supplements to the general public. Flavonoids are also utilized in research but have a high cost due to current production techniques. This project focuses on engineering two DNA recombinants to develop new strains of Corynebacterium glutamicum that can produce flavonoids pinocembrin and naringenin. After culturing Escherichia coli colonies containing genes of interest, the genes were collected and purified by PCR reactions. The recombinant plasmid was assembled using CPEC and successfully transformed into Escherichia coli, with plans to transform Corynebacterium glutamicum to experiment and determine which recombinant can produce more pinocembrin and naringenin. Design work for other DNA recombinants, which were not the focus of this project, was also completed.

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2019-05

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Plasmid construction for the overexpression of waste biomass-degrading enzymes

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Lignin is a naturally abundant source of aromatic carbon but is largely underutilized in industry because it is difficult to decompose. Under the current study we engineered Corynebacterium glutamicum for the depolymerization of lignin with the goal of using it

Lignin is a naturally abundant source of aromatic carbon but is largely underutilized in industry because it is difficult to decompose. Under the current study we engineered Corynebacterium glutamicum for the depolymerization of lignin with the goal of using it as raw feed for the sustainable production of valuable chemicals. C. glutamicum is a standout candidate for the depolymerization and assimilation of lignin because of its performance as an industrial producer of amino acids, resistance to aromatic compounds in lignin, and low extracellular protease activity. Three different foreign and native ligninolytic enzymes were tested in combination with three signal peptides to assess lignin degradation efficacy. At this stage, six of the nine plasmid constructs have been constructed.

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2021-05

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Engineering a Co-Culture of Bacteria and Yeast for the Production of Renewable p-Coumaric Acid

Description

p-Coumaric acid is used in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries due to its versatile properties. While prevalent in nature, harvesting the compound from natural sources is inefficient, requiring large quantities of producing crops and numerous extraction and purification steps.

p-Coumaric acid is used in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries due to its versatile properties. While prevalent in nature, harvesting the compound from natural sources is inefficient, requiring large quantities of producing crops and numerous extraction and purification steps. Thus, the large-scale production of the compound is both difficult and costly. This research aims to produce p-coumarate directly from renewable and sustainable glucose using a co-culture of Yeast and E. Coli. Methods used in this study include: designing optimal media for mixed-species microbial growth, genetically engineering both strains to build the production pathway with maximum yield, and analyzing the presence of p-Coumarate and its pathway intermediates using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). To date, the results of this project include successful integration of C4H activity into the yeast strain BY4741 ∆FDC1, yielding a strain that completely consumed trans-cinnamate (initial concentration of 50 mg/L) and produced ~56 mg/L p-coumarate, a resting cell assay of the co-culture that produced 0.23 mM p-coumarate from an initial L-Phenylalanine concentration of 1.14 mM, and toxicity tests that confirmed the toxicity of trans-cinnamate to yeast for concentrations above ~50 mg/L. The hope for this project is to create a feasible method for producing p-Coumarate sustainably.

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2016-12

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Metabolic Engineering of Intracellular Malonyl-CoA Accumulation to Enhance Natural Product Biosynthesis in Corynebacterium Glutamicum

Description

Flavonoids are important biomolecules with a variety of pharmaceutical and agricultural applications. Currently, isolating these compounds is done by plant extraction, however this process is hindered by large land and energy requirements. Previous groups have aimed to overcome these challenges

Flavonoids are important biomolecules with a variety of pharmaceutical and agricultural applications. Currently, isolating these compounds is done by plant extraction, however this process is hindered by large land and energy requirements. Previous groups have aimed to overcome these challenges by engineering microbes to produce these important compounds, however this is largely bottlenecked by the lack of intercellular malonyl-CoA availability. To remedy this, the genes matB and matC have been identified as coding for malonyl-CoA synthase and a putative dicarboxylate carrier protein, respectively. Other works have successfully engineered two variants, Streptomyces coelicolor and Rhizobium trifolii, of these genes into Escherichia coli, however this has yet to be accomplished in Gram-positive Corynebacterium glutamicum. Additionally, other groups have neglected to attempt tuning these genes with respect to one another by inserting in front of different inducible promoters. This study has successfully assembled two plasmids containing the Streptomyces coelicolor and Rhizobium trifolii variants of both matB and matC. Preliminary fermentations and GCMS results confirmed that little to none naringenin was produced without the matB-matC module. Additionally, preliminary fermentations revealed that the DelAro1 and DelAro3 strains can be used to reduce metabolism of aromatics like naringenin.

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2022-05