Department of Biochemistry and Synthetic Metabolism
"Understanding and building metabolism”
Research in the Department of Biochemistry and Synthetic Metabolism is located at the interface of microbial physiology, biochemistry and synthetic biology. We focus on discovering, understanding and engineering novel enzymes and pathways, especially those that capture and convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. We apply our knowledge to create metabolism de novo in a retrosynthetic fashion. One example are synthetic pathways for the fixation of carbon dioxide that are more efficient than the naturally evolved pathways in the photosynthesis of plants.
Through these synthetic biological approaches we aim at understanding the fundamental building principles of metabolic networks. This will allow us to design and realize novel biological processes in the future, such as artificial photosynthesis, synthetic organelles and cells.
Currently, central questions in our Department are:
- How many metabolic pathways in the global carbon cycle are still undiscovered and what is their function?
- How do enzymes catalyze challenging reactions (e.g. the conversion of CO2) and what drives their evolution?
- How do we re-design enzymes for novel catalytic functions (e.g., novel CO2-fixation reactions)?
- How do we build efficient artificial metabolic pathways from individual enzymes (e.g. for the efficient conversion of CO2)?
- How do we transplant artificial metabolic networks into natural and synthetic cells (e.g., to create artificial chloroplasts)?
To answer these questions, we use a wide array of methods, including protein biochemistry, molecular and structural biology, metabolic and genetic engineering, experimental evolution, NMR and UV/Vis spectroscopy, metabolomics, transcriptomics and proteomics, synthetic biology and fluorescence microscopy. Through a network of collaborations, we are in intense exchange with other researchers and laboratories worldwide, including France, Switzerland, the Netherlands Israel, Chile and the United States.