Vision of the Lab:
The Senger Lab innovates tools to (i) design new metabolic pathways that produce valuable chemicals and next-generation biofuels, (ii) engineer superior microbial hosts to produce these chemicals from renewable resources such as sunlight and lignocellulose, and (iii) determine the chemical compositions of cells, tissues, and organs in real-time as they are exposed to changing environmental conditions and/or genetic manipulations.
Our lab is focused on both computational and experimental methods development, and all graduate students in our lab learn to master toolsets of both approaches. To derive new metabolic pathways, we use a novel computational approach that includes combinatorial assembly, computer aided molecular design, molecular dynamics, and docking simulations. Metabolic engineering is then used to optimize pathway expression and microbial host fitness. We first derive “fine-tuned” metabolic engineering strategies using genome-scale metabolic flux modeling with a novel “flux ratios” approach. Implementing these strategies in the lab calls for the application of gene promoter libraries along with thermodynamically designed regulatory RNA. Combinatorial metabolic engineering methods (e.g., genomic libraries) are applied to explore biodiversity for optimizing performance of engineered cultures. We also research synthetic biological circuits to better enrich genomic libraries for optimized performance.
Raman spectroscopy is used for real-time monitoring of the chemical compositions of cultures and biological samples in our lab. We have novel methods to de-convolute complicated Raman spectra (which are composed of contributions from thousands of chemicals in a biological sample). Peptide-guided surface enhanced Raman scattering (pgSERS) is one novel tool invented in our lab to do this. Using pgSERS, a researcher can effectively focus on any sub-cellular location (e.g., cell membrane or organelle) selectively. These methods have shown largely effective for monitoring phenotypes in real-time and non-destructively. Several applications in biotechnology and health related fields are being pursued with this technology.
We are interested in recruiting quality graduate students to specialize in metabolic engineering, systems biology, genome-scale metabolic modeling, and/or synthetic biology. We are also interested in hosting visiting scholars and postdoctoral researchers who can help us expand our existing toolsets and knowledge. We also participate in Research for Undergraduates (REU) programs and the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program (MAOP) at Virginia Tech and are always excited to train undergraduate students to perform research. Please contact us with inquiries.