Patrick Shih, the Joint BioEnergy Institute’s (JBEI) Director of Plant Biosystems Design in the Feedstocks Division, has been awarded a 2020 Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. Shih is an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences at UC Davis, one of JBEI’s six academic research partners.
In a study appearing in Nature Plants, researchers from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and Berkeley Lab report the discovery and characterization of a previously undescribed lineage of form I rubisco – one that the researchers suspect diverged from form I rubisco prior to the evolution of cyanobacteria. The novel lineage, called form I’ rubisco, gives researchers new insights into the structural evolution of form I rubisco, potentially providing clues as to how this enzyme changed the planet.
The work was led by Patrick Shih, a UC Davis assistant professor and the director of Plant Biosystems Design at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), and Doug Banda, a postdoctoral scholar in his lab.
Scientists at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) are using synthetic biology to give plants the ability to create molecules never seen before in nature. New research led by Patrick Shih, director of Plant Biosystems Design at JBEI, and Beth Sattely of Stanford University describes success in swapping enzymes between plants to engineer new synthetic metabolic pathways. These pathways gave plants the ability to create new classes of chemical compounds, some of which have enhanced properties.
Biofuels are an important part of the broader strategy to replace petroleum-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels that we use today. However, biofuels have so far not reached cost parity with conventional petroleum fuels.
One strategy to make biofuels more competitive is to make plants do some of the work themselves. Scientists can engineer plants to produce valuable chemical compounds, or bioproducts, as they grow. Then the bioproducts can be extracted from the plant and the remaining plant material can be converted into fuel. When produced in the plant itself, bioproducts can help reduce the cost of the resulting biofuel.
Patrick Shih, Director of Plant Biosystems Design at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and faculty scientist with the Environmental Genomics & Systems Biology (EGSB) Division, collaborated with a team of researchers led by the University of British Columbia in a new study that has found that bacteria go extinct at substantial rates, although appear to avoid the mass extinctions that have hit larger forms of life on Earth. The finding contradicts widely held scientific thinking that microbe taxa, because of their very large populations, rarely die off. The study “Bacterial diversification through geological time,” published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution used massive DNA sequencing and big data analysis to create the first evolutionary tree encompassing a large fraction of Earth’s bacteria over the past billion years. To learn more read the University of British Columbia news release.