LLNL DOE Scientific Focus Areas
The Systems and Synthetic Biology Group members participate in several DOE Scientific Focus Areas.
The LLNL Biosecurity SFA seeks to design multilayered containment strategies to safeguard the deployment of engineered microbes in the rhizosphere. Genetically engineered microorganisms (GEMs) play an important role in building and maintaining a sustainable bioeconomy. Without sufficiently robust biocontainment strategies, however, technology adoption and public trust will remain low. To reduce the risk of unintended ecological consequences from environmentally deployed GEMs, the Secure Biosystems Design SFA at LLNL is developing built-in security mechanisms that ensure GEMs function where and when needed. Efforts are concentrated on establishing robust, generalizable biocontainment strategies in environmentally relevant soil microbes at the DNA sequence, cellular, and population levels to achieve containment without sacrificing microbial fitness. Leveraging LLNL’s high performance computing (HPC) and high-throughput gene-editing capabilities, a specific focus of this SFA is on advancing a synthetic gene entanglement strategy for containment. In this strategy, two genes are encoded as overlapping sequences within the same DNA molecule, taking advantage of the fact that the same DNA sequence can be decoded in different reading frames. This DNA sequence overlap protects engineered functions against mutational inactivation and mitigates the potential transfer of engineered genes to naturally occurring microbes. Building on this layer of genetic stability, additional containment strategies that control cellular physiology and direct population coordination are incorporated to increase the overall system robustness to environmental fluctuations. Leveraging LLNL’s rich experience in soil microbial ecology, this SFA evaluates the ecological benefits of these containment mechanisms in soil and rhizosphere environments. By increasing the genomic stability of GEMs and preventing the transfer of potentially invasive traits to native microbiomes, the ultimate objective is to achieve robust and secure niche-specific function of GEMs for safer and more effective environmental applications.
The LLNL Biofuels SFA is focused on the community systems biology of microbial consortia that are closely associated with bioenergy-relevant plants and algae, with the ultimate goal of developing predictive models.
The LLNL Biogeochemistry of Actinides SFA is focused on advancing understanding of surface and subsurface actinide behavior to provide a scientific basis for remediation and long-term stewardship of DOE legacy sites and, more broadly, increase understanding of transport phenomena in environmental system science.
The LLNL Soil Microbiome SFA—Microbes Persist: Systems Biology of the Soil Microbiome—seeks to understand how microbial ecophysiology, population dynamics, and microbe–mineral–organic matter interactions regulate the persistence of microbial residues in soil under changing moisture regimes.