Kinan Tadmori is currently an undergraduate student studying Biological Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, with a minor in Environmental Policy. She is an intern at the Rutgers Energy Institute for the summer of 2014, working with Professor Charles Dismukes of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology on biofuel research.
1. Please describe your research in a way that would be understandable to someone without any scientific or technical background. Aquatic microbial oxygenic photoautotrophs (also known as AMOPs), are aquatic organisms that use photosynthesis to turn light (solar) energy into chemical energy. These organisms include cyanobacteria and microalgae, and are important potential platforms for biofuel production. Cyanobacteria provide many advantages over other biofuel sources, such as plants, because they do not compete with food crops for land resources. One important biofuel produced from these organisms through inherent pathways is hydrogen (H2). Hydrogen is advantageous as a potential alternative to fossil fuels because its combustion does not release CO2, a prominent greenhouse gas. However, hydrogen yields are limited in cyanobacteria, and thus the goal of my research is to increase its production by genetic engineering of the cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. strain 7002. Specifically, I have focused on a strain of this cyanobacterium containing an overexpression mutation in a gene acting in the Calvin Cycle (carbon fixation), known as glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase-2 (gapdh-2). With this strain, I have worked on both photoautotrophic growth, as well as autofermentation, which occurs in dark, anoxic conditions, and is the process through which hydrogen is produced from NADH via the enzyme hydrogenase as glucose its catabolized.
2. How did you come to be involved in this research? I have always had an interest in environmental and energy studies, and was looking for place to both learn more about, as well as contribute to this field. Upon searching through many research programs here at Rutgers, I found Dr. Dismukes' work to be quite interesting and groundbreaking in the energy field. I was eager to apply my course knowledge to the lab and real-world issues. After speaking with Dr. Dismukes during the spring of my sophomore year, I began research that summer.
3. Where do you see your research fitting into our energy future? By working with a gene functioning in CO2fixation, we are able to further understand the limited hydrogen yields associated with this cyanobacterium. We found that the overexpression of gapdh-2 produced more glucose, as expected in an overexpression of a gene functioning in carbon fixation, but this did not correlate to a greater level of hydrogen production. This tells us that there is something else limiting hydrogen production in these organisms, which brings us a step forward in understanding the organism. This research helps bring us closer to improving viability of this organism as a platform for biofuel production, and developing an alternative energy source for future generations.