Call: (240) 314-6244
Call: (240) 314-6244
- Postdoctoral Research, Molecular Biology, University of California Berkeley, 1985-1989
- Ph.D., Biochemistry, Georgetown University, 1985
- B.S., Biology and Chemistry, Saint Joseph’s College, 1979
The Eisenstein laboratory is building next-generation bioenergy plants with enhanced capacity to manage biotic and abiotic challenges. Their strategy is to derive mechanistic information from multidisciplinary tools, ranging from molecular and structural biology, to plant, systems and synthetic biology, as well as protein design and engineering, to develop superior traits. These improvements are being introduced into plants via genome engineering in order to extend our diminishing supply of fossil fuels. In addition, Dr. Eisenstein is applying systems engineering principles to improve the development of protein biopharmaceuticals.
Poplar Trees as New Biofuels
A challenge to improving the quality and availability of biofuel feedstocks is that transgenic plants with enhanced biotechnology traits (such as higher ethanol yields) often display reduced fitness, lower biomass, and an increased susceptibility to disease. The Eisenstein lab focuses on poplar trees as a feedstock because they grow rapidly, produce significant biomass in short times, and yield substantial energy. Through several profitable collaborations, the group is addressing the following three challenges to improving poplar as a bioenergy feedstock:
Increase plant resistance to pathogens
Plant pathogens use a variety of mechanisms to infect and spread disease, but the plant immune system limits infection by recognizing pathogen effectors and activating local cell death. Leaf rust – one of the most important diseases in poplar - is caused by the pathogenic fungus Melampsora larici-populina. The lab is elucidating the components of the poplar defense response that are targeted by rust effectors, as well as the components of poplar nutrient homeostasis that are hijacked by the pathogen to spread disease. Additionally, the lab is determining the structures of receptor-effector complexes to unravel the elementary steps of host-pathogen interactions. These outcomes will afford new approaches for genetically engineering useful biotechnology traits into poplar to enhance resistance to pathogens and expand its potential for use as a critical bioenergy feedstock.
Remobilize nutrients to increase biomass
Seasonal nitrogen cycling plays a key role in the overall nitrogen budget of poplar and has a significant impact on new growth and biomass yield. The lab is using protein, metabolic, and system engineering to enhance the synthesis and storage of nitrogen-rich metabolites and to rewire the signaling between nitrogen utilization and storage to improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE). The outcomes will increase biomass yields and enhance efficient downstream processing to advance the long-term sustainability of poplar as a bioenergy crop.
Improve plant response to abiotic stress
A barrier to the broad adoption of plant feedstocks for bioenergy is lignin – a phenolic-based polymer that provides rigidity and strength to plant tissues, but which must be removed from pulp to make cellulose for biofuel. Low lignin plants display enhanced ethanol yields, but are prone to metabolic stress since they cannot as readily cope with abiotic challenges, such as constant exposure to UV radiation. Ecophysiologic and metabolomic investigations of genetically engineered poplar will help to decipher the mechanisms whereby low-lignin plants respond to UV stress. The results will inform engineering approaches to boost acclimation and fitness of new biofuel feedstocks.
Enhance Soluble Protein Production
The lab also has a long-standing interest in improving the production of therapeutic proteins in bacterial and mammalian cell cultures. They are using modern genome-engineering approaches to rewire cell circuits to improve the production of therapeutic proteins. Their goal is to establish cell lines that enhance soluble protein production for a range of therapeutic protein targets.