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

Nikolau Group - Postdoctoral Research Associates

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Postdoctoral Research Associates

(listed alphabetically)

Alexis CAMPBELL photo



Research project summary: My research project is focused on the molecular and biochemical characterization of fatty acid elongase (FAE) systems. FAE systems synthesize very long chain fatty acids, which are fatty acids of greater than 18 carbon atoms in length. To understand the complex nature of this integral membrane system I am bioengineering maize FAE systems, outside of the plant cell, using the heterologous host Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Hometown: West Des Moines, Iowa. Degrees: BS in Biology, Iowa State University; PhD in Plant Biology, Iowa State University. Thesis title: Fatty acid elongase (FAE) systems: An investigation of genetic redundancy. Research interest/s: Use of metabolic biochemistry as a means to bioengineer a set of desired products. I enjoy scientific research because it allows the integration of multiple disciplines for the investigation of specific research questions. My research has benefited from a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates plant biology, biochemistry, genetics, bioinformatics, and biological/chemical engineering.  Teaching and development of scientific educational programs is a growing interest of mine. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: The unique environment that has been built. Since beginning in Basil's lab with an NSF-REU undergraduate internship, Summer 2002, it was clear that regardless of education level, we are all here to help teach and advance each other. This includes Basil, who makes time to discuss science (and other topics on occasion!) regardless of how busy he may be. This type of environment is very stimulating and beneficial to a growing scientist. The Nikolau lab continually presents opportunities and challenges to enhance one’s scientific self daily. Fun fact: I have a daughter named Mya.  She keeps me smiling, entertained, in awe and busy...motherhood has been the greatest blessing!

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.

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!