Natural product biosynthesis, biosynthetic pathway engineering, and their application

Our society depends highly on petroleum, not only as energy source, but also as raw material to feed our chemical industry.  Due to the limited reserve of fossil oils and the increasing awareness of environmental protection, developing technologies for more effective utilization of renewable petroleum sources is crucial for sustainable growth in the future. To address this challenge, one of the research directions in the Liu laboratory is mechanistic studies of biosynthetic processes and their optimizations through bio-engineering.  Eventually, the knowledge gained from these studies will be applied to address issues faced by the human society, including biofuel production and the development of chemo- and immuno-therapies for human diseases.  The biosynthesis of isoprenoids, alkanoids, halides, and phosphonates in marine micro-organisms will also be pursued. These are the focuses of the Liu laboratory efforts.

Malaria has been chosen as our disease target and based on the fact that isoprenoids are essential for cellular survival, the Liu laboratory established an interdisciplinary isoprenoid/malaria program with four directions:

A) Enzymatic mechanism and inhibitor design;

B) Isoprenoid production through metabolic engineering;

C) Build a marine natural product library (isoprenoids, alkanoids, phosphonates);

D) Explore the utilization of small molecules in vaccine development (Chemical genetics).