University of Minnesota Innovator: Kechun Zhang

Research Overview

petroleum_res_overview.pngPetroleum is the most important raw material for the modern society. Without oil-derived everyday items such as gasoline, clothing, plastics and rubber, modern life would be inconceivable. However, an unfortunate fact is that the earth has only finite oil reserves, and “the end of cheap oil” may come as soon as 2040. To ensure the future development of human society, we have to find sustainable approaches to the supply of energy and chemicals. Our research is going to address this grand challenge facing humanity by developing nonnatural biosynthetic pathways to produce biofuels, bulk chemicals and pharmaceuticals from renewable resources.

Research Approach





Our research will focus on expanding the metabolic capabilities of bacteria to biosynthesize nonnatural metabolites in a sustainable, green, and cost-effective fashion. To achieve industry-level biosynthesis of these chemicals, the research theme is divided into three steps: First, artificial metabolic pathways are designed; second, protein evolution is performed to construct and optimize the designed pathways; third, metabolic flux is driven to the production of target compounds. Our research integrates techniques from synthetic biology, synthetic chemistry, protein engineering, metabolic engineering and biochemical engineering