Microbial Biofuels Idea Lab
| The Microbial Biofuels IdeaLab focuses on the envisioning of diverse strategies that microbiologists may utilize to contribute towards the advancement of biofuel technologies. Additionally, it serves as a focused group to facilitate collaboration across scientific disciplines, and to guide the progress of individual dissertation projects.
There currently is much attention amongst academic groups on campus for energy and biofuels, but nearly all of such groups center their attention on the policy, economics, or environmental impact of an emerging biofuels economy. Nevertheless, there are a handful of scientists performing primary research relating to biofuels on campus, and many more are expected to appear as biofuels become more of a reality. Currently there is no discussion amongst these scholars, and forums such as the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC) and the Renewable & Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) are too broad to allow the sustained intellectual comradery that is so fruitful to the career of a graduate student. Additionally, Berkeley-affiliated bioenergy research institutes (Joint BioEnergy Institute, Energy Biosciences Institute) do not fulfill the unique niche of graduate student learning.
At the center of the issue of biofuels is the primary production of biomass by photosynthesis. For this matter, plant biologists are invited to participate. However, in view of the potential risks associated with soil-based agriculture dedicated to biofuel crops, the group also considers photosynthetic microorganisms, agricultural and urban wastes, microbial electrochemistry, and bioremediative productivity. The microbial focus of this Idea Lab is rooted in the utility of single-celled organisms as biocatalysts, their ease of genetic manipulation, their high rates of growth and productivity, and the tremendous metabolic diversity present in nature.
Meetings consist of a discussion segment and a presentation segment. The discussion segment focuses on strategies, philosophy, techniques, organisms, and metabolism as it relates to microbial biofuels research. The aim of the discussions is to educate ourselves and to brainstorm “dreamland” projects that could serve as our own side-projects, collaborations, undergraduate-conducted research, future postdoctoral work, or suggestions to our advisors. The presentation segments consist of short progress reports by everyone, and one longer in-depth presentation of the successes and challenges of a particular student’s doctoral research.
The Microbial Biofuels Idea Lab functions independent of faculty input in order to bring out the talents and ingenuity of students across a variety of disciplines, without the biases of institutional granting structures. This environment serves as a comfortable nest for nascent ideas, in preparation for their implementation as formal research projects and proposals.
Main Contact: Matthew Melnicki, Dara Goodheart and Jerome Fox