Updated on 10 July 2012
Dr Syed Shams Yazdani is head of Synthetic Biology and Biofuel Group at the ICGEB
The International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) is a global organization dedicated to advanced research and training in molecular biology and biotechnology, with special regard to the needs of the developing world. The ICGEB boasts of 85 signatory countries, including 61 member states, 40 affiliated centers, spread across three host countries (located in Cape Town, South Africa; Trieste, Italy; and New Delhi India). Scientists at the synthetic biology and biofuel group, at the center are conducting ground breaking work in bio-energy research in an independent and collaborative manner. The group is performing cutting-edge research in the field of bioenergy using genomics, metagenomics, synthetic biology and systems biology approaches.
Dr Syed Shams Yazdani has been heading the synthetic biology and biofuel group at the ICGEB since 2011. Dr Yazdani, who previously worked as a postdoctoral associate at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University, Houston, US, speaks to BioSpectrum, regarding the various innovative projects that his group has ventured into to develop second generation biofuels.
Could you kindly shed some light on the research that you are conducting at the Synthetic Biology and Biofuel Group at the ICGEB? What are the various projects that you are working on?
Dr Yazdani: Our research utilizes combination of genomics, metagenomics, synthetic and systems biology approaches. Using these tools, we focus on three major research areas: screening, identification and design of novel cellulolytic enzymes, engineering microbe for production of bioethanol from cellulosic biomass using consolidated processing approach, and engineering microbe for production of biofuels of longer carbon chain length. We have established the capabilities to screen cellulolytic microbes in high throughput manner and identified several novel enzymes that would ease in the degradation of cellulolytic biomass. We select the promising ones and perform thorough genetic and biochemical characterization to understand its functional mechanism and to further improve its functional characteristics. We express these enzymes in high quantities in heterologous host and construct bifunctional hybrid enzymes to reduce the production cost further.
Expressing cocktail of cellulolytic enzymes in heterologous host also gives us the opportunity to save cost for production of cellulosic ethanol by expressing these enzymes in ethanologenic microbes, which can then directly convert cellulose to ethanol, bypassing the expensive enzyme hydrolysis step, via an approach known as consolidated bioprocess (CBP). We have already succeeded in metabolically engineer a bacterium to produce high yield of ethanol from C5 and C6 sugars through rearrangement of its endogenous pathway and we are now in the process of demonstrating its potential for use in CBP.