Director, CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform
Adjunct Professor, Queensland University of Technology & Griffith University
Professor Vickers is Director of the Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform at CSIRO (Australia’s national research agency). Her early research interests spanned crop plant engineering, abiotic stress and volatile isoprenoids. Over the last 15 years, she has focussed on metabolic regulation of isoprenoids in plants and microbes, and on developing synthetic biology tools for rational re-engineering of metabolism. She was founding President of Synthetic Biology Australia and is on the Executive of the International Society for Terpenoids (TERPNET). She is a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Fellow and she co-chairs the World Economic Forum Synthetic Biology Future Council. She serves on editorial boards for eight international journals and has Adjunct Professor roles at Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University.
We use synthetic biology to (a) understand metabolic regulation of the isoprenoid group of natural products, and (b) engineer production of industrially-useful biochemicals. The overall aim of the program is to develop a sufficiently complete understanding of biology such that predictable, reproducible engineering can be achieved. Isoprenoids (terpenes/terpenoids) represent an ideal model system to investigate this challenge. Isoprenoids are an extremely large and diverse group of natural compounds with myriad biological functions, including roles in photosynthesis, respiration, signalling, membrane biosynthesis, and as pigments, hormones, virulence factors, vitamins, etc. They also have many industrial uses, ranging from specialized applications (e.g. anti-cancer and anti-malarial pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals) through to bulk chemicals (e.g., food colours, fragrances, rubbers, agricultural chemicals, and fuel replacements). However, extracting these compounds from natural sources or chemically synthesizing them is often unfeasible, making them ideal targets for metabolic engineering. We have developed new tools and techniques that help us understand metabolic regulation of pathway flux and achieve controlled cellular behaviour. These include tools for inserting large amounts of DNA onto chromosomes, multi-gene yeast expression vectors, modules to control cell density-dependent gene expression, plant transformation vectors and reporter systems, novel approaches to engineer pathway flux, and subcellular compartments for biocatalysis. This presentation will detail the available synthetic biology tools with examples of their application in isoprenoid production.