Synthetic Biology Approach to Drive Oxygen-Dependent Biochemical Pathways Under Anaerobic Conditions

Summer 2017

Nazar Akhverdyan : Molecular and Cellular Biology

Mentor: John D. Coates

Hydrocarbon contamination can be extremely detrimental to affected ecosystems and bioremediation, the use of microorganisms to detoxify and remove environmental pollutants, presents an effective solution. Specifically, oxygenases are required to perform hydroxylation or carboxylation reactions that cleave aromatic rings into less inert intermediates. Oxygen is an essential co-substrate for many aromatic hydrocarbon degradation pathways. However, bioremediation of aromatic hydrocarbons is often constrained by limited oxygen levels, which can be attributed to oxygen’s low solubility and rapid depletion during cellular respiration. Bioreactor-mediated hydrocarbon degradation similarly faces oxygen limitation issues, and solutions like increasing the bioreactor’s retention time or continuously pumping in pure oxygen are extremely costly and inefficient. My project aims to synthetically develop recombinant organisms that can drive naturally oxygen-dependent biochemical pathways under anaerobic conditions. 

This summer fellowship, generously funded by the Rose Hills Foundation, was invaluable in my journey to become a physician scientist. This experience gave me the creative freedom to design my own experiments, analyze data, and interpret findings. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to apply my scientific knowledge to real-world problems that I am passionate about. I am excited to continue my work and develop it into a senior thesis.