Programmable Bionanoreactors for Environmental Applications

In nature, cells compartmentalize their internal spaces by creating physical barriers to centralize specific biochemical reactions and store useful compounds. The proteinaceous compartments are able to encapsulate enzyme cargos and act as catalytic machineries in various biological processes, such as carbon fixation and nutrient metabolism. We are interested in designing and building these protein assemblies (such as vault) for addressing global environmental needs in remediation, monitoring, and sustainable energy. Co-localizing key pathway enzymes in confined spaces in cells can greatly stimulate intermediates transfer between enzymes and prevent side reactions, and therefore enhance overall biotransformation rates. Our goal is to construct in vivo catalytic nanocompartments for bioremediation, bioenergy production, and resource recovery, and in vitro bionanoreactors for water treatment and water quality monitoring.

Protein Assembly-Templated Ordered Materials for Water Purification

Biomolecule-directed synthesis of inorganic materials, which is known as biomineralization, yields numerous complex structures in organisms and enables “green” in vitro processing of materials with well-defined sizes and morphologies. Protein assemblies offer uniform size, atomically resolved structure, and controllable and unusual ordering and symmetry, thus positioning them as ideal platforms for the development of new ordered porous materials. Our goal is to use protein assemblies (e.g., nanotubes, lattices, and nanocages) to direct the synthesis of multidimensional inorganic materials with highly controlled structural features for sustainable and efficient water treatment and disinfection.

Omics in Natural and Engineered Systems

Human releases of contaminants and global climate change influence the microbial compositions and activities in the environment, challenging microbe-driven processes such as biodegradation and nitrogen and carbon cycling. The advent of powerful omics technologies has opened new avenues towards collectively investigating the roles, relationship, and dynamics of many molecules in a biological system, thus enabling us to explore how microbial communities and environmental processes interact. We are interested in utilizing metabolomics that profiles metabolites that are straight outcomes of microbes’ biochemical pathways, to probe the phenotypic microbial activities in environments that are impacted by emerging contaminants and climate changes, and to investigate microbial activities and dynamics thereof in resource-generating waste treatment systems. The overall goal is to inform how environmental changes (e.g., contamination, climate change) impact microbial functions in biogeochemical cycling and guide the design and optimization of bioprocessing of wastes for resource recovery.