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Microbial communities, synthetic biology and  biofilm formation..

  • Date
    Mon, Sep 23

    2:00 PM — 3:15 PM

    Steinman Hall
    Steinman Hall 160 - Lecture Hall

    Steinman Hall, 160 - Lecture Hall

    p: 212.650.5748


  • Event Details

    The ChE Department would like to welcome Professor Cynthia Collins from RPI

    Microbial communities, synthetic biology and
    biofilm formation in space

    The biosynthesis of compounds of medical and industrial importance often requires engineering and optimization of complex metabolic pathways. Traditionally, these processes have employed a clonal population of recombinant microbes. There are many limitations of using a single population of microorganism that could be alleviated or addressed by using a mixed community, including metabolic load and the number of exogenous elements that can be cloned and optimized in a single cell. In order to control interactions required for these cells to work together, it is important to generate robust communication pathways between biotechnologically relevant species. To this end, we have developed a new set of transcriptional regulators and promoters based on the esa quorum-sensing system that can be used to turn gene expression on or off in response to a cell-cell communication signal. To expand our ability to use mixtures of diverse microbial species, we have developed a synthetic communication pathway between a representative Gram-negative organism (Escherichia coli) and representative Gram-postitive organism (Bacillus megaterium). An acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL)-dependent system was adapted to send signals from B. megaterium to E. coli. Components of a peptide-dependent microbial signaling pathway were used to send signals from E. coli to B. megaterium. We anticipate that our communication system, when combined with strategies for fine-tuning ecological interactions, will be a key technology for the implementation of synthetic consortia for bioprocessing and metabolic engineering applications.

    Another microbial community behavior of broad interest is biofilm formation, which can cause biofouling, biocorrosion, and is implicated in the majority of microbial infections. Understanding the effects of spaceflight and microgravity on the growth and physiology of microbial biofilms may be essential for the long-term success of human space exploration. We recently sent experiments on the STS-132 and STS-135 missions aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. We found that biofilms formed by the opportunistic pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, were both thicker and formed a novel structure observed on Earth.

    Cynthia Collins joined the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at RPI in March 2008 as an assistant professor. She obtained her Honours B.Sc. from the University of Toronto, and her Ph.D. from Caltech. She subsequently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary, and was the recipient of a prestigious Alberta Ingenuity Post-Doctoral Fellowship. Recent honors include a National Academies Keck Future Initiative Seed Award, a NASA Group Achievement Award, RPI’s School of Engineering Education Innovation Award and an NSF CAREER Award.