Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Energy Science and Engineering

Major Professor

Cong T. Trinh

Committee Members

Eric T. Boder, Adam M. Guss, Michael L. Simpson


The development of a secure and sustainable energy economy is likely to require the production of fuels and commodity chemicals in a renewable manner. There has been renewed interest in biological commodity chemical production recently, in particular focusing on non-edible feedstocks. The fields of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology have arisen in the past 20 years to address the challenge of chemical production from biological feedstocks. Metabolic modeling is a powerful tool for studying the metabolism of an organism and predicting the effects of metabolic engineering strategies. Various techniques have been developed for modeling cellular metabolism, with the underlying principle of mass balance driving the analysis. In this dissertation, two industrially relevant organisms were examined for their potential to produce biofuels.

First, Saccharomyces cerevisiae was used to create biodiesel in the form of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) through expression of a heterologous acyl-transferase enzyme. Several genetic manipulations of lipid metabolic and / or degradation pathways were rationally chosen to enhance FAEE production, and then culture conditions were modified to enhance FAEE production further. The results were used to identify the rate-limiting step in FAEE production, and provide insight to further optimization of FAEE production.

Next, Clostridium thermocellum, a cellulolytic thermophile with great potential for consolidated bioprocessing but a weakly understood metabolism, was investigated for enhanced ethanol production. To accomplish the analysis, two models were created for C. thermocellum metabolism. The core metabolic model was used with extensive fermentation data to elucidate kinetic bottlenecks hindering ethanol production. The genome scale metabolic model was constructed and tuned using extensive fermentation data as well, and the refined model was used to investigate complex cellular phenotypes with Flux Balance Analysis.

The work presented within provide a platform for continued study of S. cerevisiae and C. thermocellum for the production of valuable biofuels and biochemicals.

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