The Sriram Lab's research is focused on two related areas: metabolic engineering and systems biology. Metabolic engineering is the rational modification of organisms to improve their cellular properties or performance. Systems biology is the holistic, quantitative analysis of large-scale biological datasets toward improved understanding, prediction and control of how a cell, tissue or organism behaves. Both these are very rapidly growing, interdisciplinary research areas with immense potential for chemical engineers to uniquely apply their expertise.
In particular, we analyze and engineer metabolic and gene regulatory networks in living systems. Metabolic pathways are "traffic maps" of carbon and other elements within cells. For a recent example, see this figure (SVG | caption | at publisher | article) and this figure (SVG | caption | at publisher | article). Gene regulatory networks show how protein-DNA interactions control cellular activities. For a recent example, see this figure (SVG | caption | at publisher | article). Such analyses provide several nontrivial insights, including strategies to relieve metabolic bottlenecks and boost cellular performance by manipulating select genes. Toward these objectives, we combine experimental techniques such as isotope labeling, two-dimensional (2-D) NMR, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), DNA microarray analysis and quantitative RT-PCR (qPCR) with several computational techniques.
Many of our applications focus on plants and related systems. The plant kingdom is the primary source of several commodities crucial to an economy such as food, biofuels, fiber, several high-value therapeutics and recently, renewable chemical industry feedstocks. Highly sophisticated plant metabolic networks synthesize these commodities from thin air (CO2), light and minerals. Quantitative studies of plant networks open up the prospect of smartly engineering these networks for beneficial purposes, and therefore hold much promise for a sustainable future. We also study bacterial, yeast and mammalian cells. Investigations of networks in these cells enable their metabolic engineering for the production of select high-value chemicals, or provide insights on how biological networks are perturbed due to the lack of function of a gene or genes in genetically inherited diseases.