Laboratory for Genome Engineering & Synthetic Biology

We develop and apply genome engineering and synthetic biology approaches and harness engineering and evolution principles to design and build genetic networks and thus engineer organisms with improved traits for key applications, including crop improvement, biomanufacturing, and diagnostics.

Our research interests are:

-          Genome Engineering

-          Synthetic Directed Evolution

-          Molecular Virology and Biotechnology

-          Alternative Splicing and Gene Regulation

-          Molecular Diagnostics

-          Biomanufacturing


Bioengineering technologies will transform and reshape the future of medicine and agriculture and will revolutionize our ability to understand and engineer genomes. In our laboratory, we develop and apply genome engineering technologies to understand and evolve gene functions and to improve traits of value.  We develop technologies for engineering cells to biomanufacture high-value products, including key compounds and select chemicals and pharmaceuticals in different synthetic biologic chassis, including plants, bacteria, and yeast. We translate ideas into products and design and construct novel synthetic gene networks for the overproduction of critical biomolecules.

Plants’ complex secondary metabolism and autotrophic nature make them superb platforms for engineering the production of high-value products; other products are better-suited to production in microbes. Therefore, we develop different synthetic biology approaches and chassis for biomanufacturing of different high-value target products, including select chemicals and pharmaceuticals for applications in agriculture and medicine.

Synthetic biology and genome-editing technologies hold promise to provide rapid, accurate, flexible diagnostics for established, evolving, and emerging pathogens. Therefore, we develop synthetic biology technologies for molecular diagnostics of pathogens and disease markers. We design, build, and develop point-of-care detection modules for nucleic acid diagnostics for different human and non-human pathogens.

Alternative splicing of pre-mRNAs has emerged as a key regulator of gene expression, particularly in response to stress, and therefore a key component of plant stress tolerance. To understand the molecular underpinnings of the splicing regulation in response to stress and growth cues, we engineer the components of the splicing machinery and explore ways to use these components for crop improvement.

Genetic resistance is readily overcome by pathogens and engineered disease resistance provides a viable, flexible, and durable alternative to genetic resistance. To engineer immunity and establish resistance to plant viruses, we develop CRISPR-based technologies that specifically target pathogens.

Accelerated directed evolution for trait improvement requires increased genetic diversity to produce new, beneficial alleles of yield- and quality-related traits. However, many current methods randomly affect the whole genome (mutagenesis) or drag in potentially deleterious alleles of linked genes (wide crosses).

We develop, improve, and harness CRISPR-Cas genome engineering technologies for targeted improvement of plant traits and engineering cells for synthetic biology applications. Our primary goal is to use the power of these technologies and existing knowledge and translate these into improved plant resilience to climate change, biotic and abiotic resistance, and yield, thereby enhancing food security