Invited Speaker: Engineering cells for chemical and fuel production

Written by: Karmella Haynes.

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Ramon Gonzalez is a researcher from Rice University and a program director for ARPA-E who investigates ways to tune metabolic processes within microbes so that they can become more efficient and robust producers of valuable chemicals and fuels. Cells are good at producing fatty acids at levels that sustain the life processes of the cell. Human energy needs could be supported by these natural pathways if we could get microbes to produce fuels that are appropriate for things like running motor engines.

Ramon dove right into the complexity and interconnectedness of central metabolic processes in bacteria. He explained how changes in one point of the process can feed back and influence the production chain in sometimes undesirable ways, hence the challenge of successful bioengineering. He presented an overview of his lab’s progress in in manipulating the beta-oxidation pathway. His group has their sights set on building the entire pathway from the bottom-up.

Ramon is currently working with ARPA-E to generate disruptive transformation. One of the reasons why innovative beneficial technologies (such as certain synthetic biology systems) never survive past conceptual or proof-of-concept stages is that the are often too expensive or impractical to use along with (or instead of) pre-existing technologies that serve a similar purpose.

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