Biofuels represent a tremendous opportunity to move the U.S.A toward a reduced dependence on imported oil. At present, the production of photosynthetic based fuels is still not competitive with petroleum derived fuels. Botryococcus braunii, a widely spread colony forming green microalga, is regarded as a potential source of renewable fuel because of its ability to produce large amounts of liquid hydrocarbons. These liquid hydrocarbons, known as botryococcenes, can be efficiently converted to gasoline, aviation fuel, and diesel fuel in yields comparable to that of petroleum.
My project in Dr. Devarenne’s laboratory deals with the isolation and characterization of botryococcene methyltransferase (BMT) genes from B. braunii. In B. braunii, there are various homologues of botryococcenes; C30 botryococcene is the precursor of all botryococcenes and is converted into homologues of up to C34 by methylation with S-adenosylmethionine acting as the methyl donor. Botryococcene methyltransferase is the enzyme involved in the final, and most crucial, step for the biosynthesis of B. braunii botryococcenes. The ultimate goal of this research is to understand the biosynthesis of botryococcenes for future improvement of their biosynthesis.
I am currently involved in cloning botryococcene methyltransferase candidate genes in order to positively identify the methyltransferase genes involved in botryococcene biosynthesis.
My primary approach involves a combined strategy and methodology of PCR based gene cloning, gene expression, gene functional characterization, and protein biochemical analysis.
Ping is currently (as of 08.08.2012) a Research Technician in the lab of Craig Kaplan in the TAMU Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics.