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Cyanobacteria as a Platform for Sustainable Metabolic Engineering.

Cyanobacteria, such as Synechococcus elongatus, are prokaryotic photoautotrophic model organisms which are responsible for a large proportion of global photosynthesis. Our group strives to develop S. elongatus as an emergent platform for synthetic biology and metabolic engineering to rival the heterotrophic Escherichia coli - the obvious advantage of photosynthetic sustainability.

While Synechococcus elongatus has been used in previous synthetic biology endeavors, such as the production of isobutyraldehyde by the Liao group, there is still a lack of well-characterized genetic parts. Therefore, our group is invested in not only characterizing functional promoters, but promoters that can tailor expression to circadian rhythms or transcriptional factors. As a corollary, it becomes necessary to use a well-defined reporter protein to dynamically quantify gene expression. So concurrently, our team is experimenting with superfolding fluorescent proteins to find a quick-folding, robust, and transient reporter that can be used to characterize dynamic parts (such as those involved in circadian rhythms).

To show the power of Synechococcus elongatus as a metabolic engineering platform, the VCU iGEM team is also in the process of integrating isoprenoid pathways which are the precursors of many commercial and pharmaceutical molecules such as farnesol, Taxol, and artemisinin. By demonstrating production of these industrially important metabolites we hope to show the practicality of utilizing cyanobacteria as a superior sustainable production platform.