Roy J. Carver Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology

Nikolau Group - Postdoctoral Research Associates

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Postdoctoral Research Associates

(listed alphabetically)

Geng DING photo



Research project summary: Understanding the cutin structure of plant cells

Hometown: Gidhni, West Bengal, India. Degrees: B.Sc in Microbiology, Vidyasagar University, India; M.Sc in Applied Microbiology, VIT, India; PhD in Plant Biotechnology, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, India. Thesis title: Genetic engineering of fatty acid biosynthetic pathway to improve the nutritional quality of sesame oil. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: People are friendly, and ready to help at any time. Fun fact: I am passionate about playing cricket and have been match-winner for my team many times. Bonus Fact: I am a big foodie and love eating chicken.

Geng DING photo



Research project summary: I am working on the hydrocarbon project to 1) identify the mechanisms by which biological systems generate simple hydrocarbons, and 2) isolate the genetic and biocatalytic elements of these mechanisms. The proposed strategy for identifying alkane-producing biocatalysts combined data from four independent biological systems that could be manipulated either developmentally or via environmental effectors to express either high- or low-levels of hydrocarbons.

Hometown: Beijing, China. Degree: PhD. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Iowa State University. Thesis title: Molecular, genetic, physiological and biochemical studies of 3-methylcrotonyl-CoA carboxylase and biotin carboxyl carrier protein-like proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana. Research interest/s: Plant biochemistry and metabolism. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: The atmosphere in Nikolau group is very open. We are not only colleagues but also friends. Fun fact: Becoming a super-mom.

Shivani GARG photo

Shivani GARG

Research project summary: I am working on developing novel biocatalysts from ketoacyl-ACP synthases (enzymes which catalyze the condensation reaction of fatty acid synthesis). By exploiting the biocatalytic potential of these enzymes, new enzymes can be developed that utilize a variety of different substrates to produce biochemicals of choice, with potential applications in green chemistry.

Hometown: Chandigarh, India, known as "City Beautiful." Degrees: BE in Biotechnology Engineering, University Institute of Engineering and Technology, Punjab University, India; PhD in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Iowa State University. Thesis title: Exploring and understanding the substrate diversity of 3-Ketoacyl-ACP-Synthase III enzymes. Research interests: Developing novel biocatalysts from existing ones (particularly 3-keto-acyl ACP synthases), that will allow bacteria to make industrially useful chemicals. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: I find the lab-environment very encouraging and motivating with so many hard-working and helpful people around me. Fun fact: I like to learn new things and these days am trying my hand at a musical instrument which happens to be an acoustic guitar. That is a different thing that I still have a long way to go before I can play some decent music. Bonus bit: Before joining ISU as a graduate student, I worked as a software developer for an IT firm in India. I think that this short detour from my scientific career helped me learn and know a lot about certain things which I could have never learnt in a grad school.

Xin GUAN photo



Research project summary: 
Plant cells appear to have at least three fatty acid forming systems, which occur in distinct subcellular compartments: plastids, mitochondria, and the ER membrane. The mitochondrial fatty acid synthase (mtFAS) is a Type II system that utilizes dissociated enzymes to catalyze the iterative reactions for fatty acid production. My research project is to identify and characterize genes that encode enzymes of Arabidopsis mtFAS system. I am applying interdisciplinary strategies (i.e., biochemistry, plant manipulation, metabolomics, and RNA-seq) to investigate the biochemical and physiological functions of Arabidopsis mtFAS system. In addition, I am trying to introduce the mtFAS components into heterologous systems for the production of fatty acid-derived biorenewable chemicals. Finally, I am developing new metabolomics methodologies that formulate data-driven hypotheses on the gene functions and guide the metabolic engineering. 

Hometown: Jinan, Shandong Province, China. Degree: BS in Biotechnology, Shandong University, China (2007); PhD in Biochemistry, Iowa State University (2014). Thesis title: Enzymatic components and physiological roles of mitochondrial fatty acid biosynthesis in plants. Research interests: Fatty acid and lipid metabolism, metabolomics, and metabolic engineering. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: The friendly people and various research fields in the Nikolau group encourage me to learn and think.

Fuyuan JING photo

Fuyuan JING


Research project summary: Acyl-ACP thioesterases are the enzymes that terminate acyl-chain elongation in fatty acid biosynthesis. The objective of my project is to identify or develop novel acyl-ACP thioesterases that have the ability to terminate the fatty acid chain elongation at 6-carbon to 8-carbon chain length or have flexibility to hydrolyze a substituted acyl-thioesters. Currently I am conducting functional/structural studies of acyl-ACP thioesterases with different substrate specificities. Later, both rational design and random mutagenesis will be used to obtain novel thioesterases.

Hometown: Hubei Province, China. Degrees: MS in Botany, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai, China; PhD in Biochemistry, Iowa State University. Thesis title: Characterization of acyl-ACP thioesterases for the purpose of diversifying fatty acid synthesis pathway. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: Working on my project. Fun fact: I like basketball and tennis.

Lucas SHOWMAN photo



Research project summary: Many poorly characterized genes are predicted to encode enzymes, the substrate(s) and products of which are unknown. The gene2function (g2f) project aims to determine the functions of such putative enzymes in the methanogenic Archaea, Methanosarcina acetivorans. This organism has the largest genome of any Archaea (5.8 Mb) with 4524 predicted coding sequences, and is one of the most metabolically diverse Archaea. Approximately half of these genes fall into the putative enzyme category and include genes possibly involved in processes such as methanogenesis, nitrogen fixation, and carbon assimilation. Given the importance of methanogens in global carbon flow and as a potential source of energy, a complete understanding of gene function in these organisms is essential. Project webpage: Gene 2 Function (G2F).

Hometown: Shellsburg, Iowa. Degrees: BS in Agricultural Biochemistry, Iowa State University; MS in Biochemistry, Iowa State University; PhD in Biochemistry, Iowa State University. Thesis title: Metabolomics based gene function annotation in Escherichia coli and Methanosarcina acetivorans with genetic gain- or loss-of-function strains. Research interests: Biotin network, gene annotation in Methanosarcina acetivorans. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: Enjoying the company of lab members who are willing to take the time to let you bounce ideas off them. Fun fact: I participated in 11 intramural championships....and lost 11 intramural championships...before winning in the 12th one...Thank God for dodge ball....

Bryon UPTON photo


Research project summary: I am researching biotin dependent carboxylases from Arabidopsis thaliana, specifically heteromeric acetyl-CoA carboxylase and 3-methylcrotonyl-CoA carboxylase. My goal is to understand the structural/functional significance of alternative splicing and gene isoforms within these enzymes. This may lead to the understanding and development of novel catalysts to be implemented into bioengineered metabolic pathways.

Hometown: Burlington, Iowa. Degrees: BS in Biochemistry, Iowa State University; PhD in Biochemistry, Iowa State University. Thesis title: Biochemical characterization of the biotin-dependent carboxylases, acetyl-CoA
carboxylase and 3-methylcrotonyl-CoA carboxylase. Research interests: Enzyme structure/function relationships. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: Interacting with so many intelligent people. Fun fact: I enjoy the Cubs and everything that is Chicago (except for the White Sox).

Xiaochen YU photo

Xiaochen YU


Research project summary: Optimize the culture conditions and develop the culture strategy in a large scale to incresase the yields and productivities of new fatty acids.

Hometown: Hubei, China. Degrees: BS in Biotechnology, Huazhong University of Science and Technology; MS in Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Washington State University; PhD in Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Washington State University. Thesis title: Microbial oil production by oleaginous yeast and fungi using the hydrolysate from the dilute sulfuric acid pretreatment of wheat straw. Research interests: Process development and optimization of microbial fatty acid production. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: Working in an open and friendly atmosphere with a group of people who are passionate about their research. Fun fact: I delivered my baby girl ONE day before the deadline for turning in all the required materials for PhD graduation!