Barney Biological Engineering Laboratory Overview

Paramedium bursaria video clip

Research Interests

Our laboratory focuses on four primary research areas. The first focus involves the study of biosynthetic pathways for commodity fuels and high-value products from select bacteria, cyanobacteria and algae. Our second focus is on bacteria and cyanobacteria capable of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) and the role these species play in the biological nitrogen cycle. Our third focus is related to the production of extracellular fermentable sugars from phototrophs (algae) and our final focus is related to organisms that are capable of biodegrading commodity plastics and other polymers in the environment.

Modern biological engineering includes efforts to utilize genetic on molecular biology tools to enable the synthesis of various biological compounds, also known as synthetic biology. In recent years, the distinctions between various scientific and engineering disciplines have become less stringent as all of these disciplines make use of modern tools that enable the engineering of entire organisms. Members of our laboratory must have a strong microbiology and biochemistry background with an interest in applied and basic science. 

In recent years, we have constructed various tools for genetic approaches in model bacteria, and are interested in biosynthetic approaches to produce compounds that could replace current fuels or have value as specialty chemicals.

Specific Research Projects

  • Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) for sustainable solutions to agriculture and algal culture
  • Extracellular sugar production by model green algae
  • Wax ester production in the model bacterium Marinobacter aquaeolei VT8
  • Triacylglyceride (TAG) production from alkaline diatoms
  • Identification of microbes capable of biodegrading polyethylene and polystyrene
  • Directed evolution approaches for novel protein design and pathway engineering


New Publication

Our paper "Canvasing the Substrate-Binding Pockets of the Wax Ester Synthase" is now published in Biochemistry.

New Publication

Our paper "Rnf1 is the primary electron source to nitrogenase in a high-ammonium-accumulating strain of Azotobacter vinelandii" is now published in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

Natalia successfully defends her dissertation

Congratulations to Natalia Calixto Mancipe for successfully defending her PhD dissertation titled "Discerning the Molecular Toolkit of Microalgae and Bacteria through Omic Approaches". Natalia published two first-author papers, with additional manuscripts in preparation. Congratulations Natalia.

Carolann successfully defends her dissertation

Carolann Knutson successfully defended her dissertation titled "The genetic basis of nitrogen fixation and carbon metabolism in Azotobacter vinelandii." Congratulations to Carol. Carol has been a member of the laboratory as an undergraduate, and Masters student, and now has completed a PhD. She has twelve publications from the laboratory, with several additional manuscripts that should come out of her dissertation work.