Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Michelle Chang: Pathways to Next-Gen Fuel


Recommended by: Drew Endy, Stanford University

When Michelle Chang was considering what to do for her postdoc, she realized that it might be more interesting to study how enzymes function in living cells. So she joined Jay Keasling's lab at the University of California, Berkeley. Chang, who did her graduate work in mechanistic enzymology, says that "in metabolic engineering, we try to translate and ask how enzymes and catalysts work in vivo instead."

Now in her own lab at Berkeley, Chang's work to make molecules is informed by how they are made in nature. "Natural systems have really solved some of the most long-standing problems in medicine, materials, and energy — like how do photons and CO2 make molecules and things that chemists want to do?" she says. In particular, Chang is studying fluorine biochemistry for drug design, directional sensing in bacteria for biomagnet production, and flux pathways for the development of next-generation biofuels.

Publication of note

In a Nature Chemical Biology paper published earlier this year, Chang's lab reported its development of a pathway to make the second-generation biofuel butanol. Using that pathway, the researchers were able to produce high titers of the fuel.

And the Nobel goes to…

Chang says that if she were to win the Nobel Prize, she hopes it would be for understanding metabolic networks and how that informs cells' phenotypic differences. "To understand the relationship between genome sequence and phenotype in terms of chemistry because in the end, as a chemist, we think that everything is related back to chemistry," she adds.

The Scan

UK Pilot Study Suggests Digital Pathway May Expand BRCA Testing in Breast Cancer

A randomized pilot study in the Journal of Medical Genetics points to similar outcomes for breast cancer patients receiving germline BRCA testing through fully digital or partially digital testing pathways.

Survey Sees Genetic Literacy on the Rise, Though Further Education Needed

Survey participants appear to have higher genetic familiarity, knowledge, and skills compared to 2013, though 'room for improvement' remains, an AJHG paper finds.

Study Reveals Molecular, Clinical Features in Colorectal Cancer Cases Involving Multiple Primary Tumors

Researchers compare mismatch repair, microsatellite instability, and tumor mutation burden patterns in synchronous multiple- or single primary colorectal cancers.

FarGen Phase One Sequences Exomes of Nearly 500 From Faroe Islands

The analysis in the European Journal of Human Genetics finds few rare variants and limited geographic structure among Faroese individuals.