ChBE Seminar Series - Michelle O'Malley

Event Details

Brad Dixon

School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering



Summary Sentence: Molecular Science and Engineering Building, Room G011

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In addition to its annual lectures, ChBE hosts a weekly seminar throughout the year with invited lecturers who are prominent in their fields. Unless otherwise noted, all seminars are held on Wednesdays in the Molecular Science and Engineering Building ("M" Building) in G011 (Cherry Logan Emerson Lecture Theater) at 4 p.m. Refreshments are served at 3:30 p.m. in the Emerson-Lewis Reception Salon.


Michelle O'Malley, University of California - Santa Barbara

"Exploiting Anaerobes for Biomass Breakdown and Sustainable Chemistry"


Renewable chemicals derived from plant biomass (mainly composed of cellulose and lignin) are attractive alternatives to those made from petroleum. To produce chemicals from biomass, enzymes are used to break down cellulose into simple sugars, which are later fermented into value-added products. However, since cellulose is tightly bound within a network of crystalline cellulosic fibers and lignin, existing biomass degrading enzymes are not very efficient.

To develop new technologies to break down plant material into sugar, much can be learned by studying how microbes digest lignocellulose in biomass-rich environments, such as the digestive tract of large herbivores. Anaerobic fungi are native to the gut and rumen of these animals, where they have evolved powerful enzymes to degrade plant biomass. Our goal is to develop new experimental tools to engineer anaerobic fungi and anaerobic microbial consortia for lignocellulose breakdown and chemical production. To accomplish this goal, we isolated a panel of anaerobic fungi and associated microbes from different herbivores and screened for their ability to degrade several types of lignin-rich grasses and agricultural waste. By focusing on model anaerobic fungi from the Piromyces, Neocallimastix, and Anaeromyces genera, we have employed next-generation sequencing to discover thousands of new genes, revealing hundreds of novel cellulases.

Additionally, we have characterized key regulatory patterns for these cellulases, which depend on the environment of the fungus. Using this information, we are developing new genetic engineering strategies to manipulate gut fungi at the molecular level, along with ‘bottom-up’ strategies to synthesize microbial consortia for compartmentalized breakdown and bioproduction. 

Additional Information

In Campus Calendar

School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Invited Audience
chbe, chemical engineering, Michelle O'Malley, seminar series
  • Created By: Brad Dixon
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Aug 17, 2015 - 1:14pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 10:13pm