By Tim Montgomery
January 1, 2010

Working with synthetic chemist Jack Richman in the lab of Distinguished McKnight University Professor Larry Wackett, graduate student Janice Frias has identified hydrocarbon synthesis in bacteria of the genus Arthrobacter – a key finding in the quest to produce fuels through biosynthesis of hydrocarbons.

The research of Frias and Richman identified a new class of bacteria capable of producing hydrocarbons, the major components of current petroleum-based transportation fuels. If the genes involved in the synthesis can be isolated, it may pave the way for metabolic engineering to produce more effective biomass-based hydrocarbon fuels.

“It was a significant accomplishment from the standpoint of applying synthetic organic chemistry to solving important biological questions regarding the precise structures of the compounds produced,” commented Wackett. He was impressed by the work of Richman, an accomplished chemist who trained with Nobel laureate E.J. Corey at Harvard and has extensive synthetic experience at DuPont and 3M, in contributing his skills and dedication to Frias’ thesis project. “It’s a project that has important societal implications.”