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Center for Advanced Microbial Processing (CAMP)

The Center for Advanced Microbial Processing's mission is to identify and isolate the genetic components responsible for the generation of the target molecules in non-model organisms and to engineer them for insertion into model bacterial hosts with the ultimate goal being the efficient and cost-effective production of the target molecule.

At the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing we will work toward our goals through interactions between three state-of-the-art facilities:

  • A next-generation sequencing center (led by Dr. Garth Ehrlich) which will allow for mining of microbial genomes, metagenomes and hologenomes that we identify as producers of target molecules
  • A biochemistry and proteomics analysis laboratory (led by Dr. Joris Beld), which will allow for screening, identification, analysis and purification of target molecules
  • A microbial engineering lab for the cloning of genes of interest and the efficient production of target molecules

Antibiotic pipelines in industry are drying up, and more and more pathogens are emerging with resistance to our current treatments. The goal of the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing (CAMP) is to tackle this problem by using microbes as both a source and a tool for the discovery and production of therapeutic agents and novel biologicals.

Nature is extremely efficient at producing complex molecules from very simple starting materials. For example, plants and algae turn sunlight and CO2 into many diverse molecules, including DNA, RNA, proteins, sugars and lipids. Other microbes like many bacteria utilize simple sugars (e.g., glucose) as their food source. Humans have also learned how to make many of these complex molecules synthetically in the laboratory, however the costs and effort can be staggering. Allowing microbes make these molecules for us is the founding principle of biotechnology. This process only requires food for the microbe (e.g., sugar for bacteria), which provides us the product relatively inexpensively. On top of that, bacteria can be fermented at high densities and growth rates, making this biotechnological process fast and efficient.

This approach has only been commercialized in a few cases, often because the underlying biochemistry and microbiology of the microbe is not well understood. For example, in some cases the product itself can be food for the bacteria and thus will be eaten before we can isolate it. Sometimes the product is toxic to the producer. In other cases, regulatory elements can prohibit overproduction or there is simply not sufficient intermediate substrate present in the cell for product formation. These are just a handful of the challenges in designing a microbial platform for rapid, high-yield production of high-value products, like biofuels, medicines or building blocks for the chemical industry.

In order to solve many of these hurdles, researchers have ushered in an era of "metabolic engineering" or "synthetic biology." In this process, we first gain genomic, proteomic and metabolic insight from the bacteria, so that we can build a model of the bacteria in silico. This model describes all the genes, proteins and metabolites in the bacteria and allows us to define metabolic bottlenecks beforehand. With surgical precision we can then edit the genome of the bacteria to remove these hurdles, by insertion of extra genes or deletion and mutation of existing genes. In the end, the goal is to custom design a bacterial strain that produces the desired product in greater amount and faster the original progenitor strain. Engineering the biosynthetic clusters responsible for the production of high-value molecules (e.g., novel drugs) into hosts that are easier to grow is the holy grail of modern metabolic engineering.

News and Announcements

"The Cholera Bacterium: Human Pathogen and Bacterial Predator"

On Wednesday, February 14, Amy Ma, PhD, hosted Stefan Pukatzki, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine.

Dr. Pukatzki presented his research, entitled "The Cholera Bacterium: Human Pathogen and Bacterial Predator." His current research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that drive microbial pathogenesis.

Stefan Pukatzki, PhD, presenting 'The Cholera Bacterium: Human Pathogen and Bacterial Predator'

"Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Children with ASD: The Chicken, or the Egg?"

On Wednesday, January 17, Garth Ehrlich, PhD, hosted Steve Walker, PhD, associate professor, Department of Neuroscience, Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine.

Dr. Walker presented his research, which focuses on using molecular tools, including whole-genome microarrays, to understand the biological basis for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in a talk entitled "Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Children with ASD: The Chicken, or the Egg?"

Stephen Walker, PhD, presenting 'Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Children with ASD: The Chicken, or the Egg?'

Luisa Hiller, PhD, presenting 'Deciphering the Pneumococcal Language'

"Deciphering the Pneumococcal Language"

On Wednesday, October 18, Garth Ehrlich, PhD, hosted Luisa Hiller, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.

Dr. Hiller presented her research, entitled "Deciphering the Pneumococcal Language." Her lab is interested in understanding the role of bacteria in both health and disease, particularly the commensal pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae.

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Garth D. Ehrlich, PhD

Garth D. Ehrlich, PhD
Founder and Executive Director of CAMP; Professor of Microbiology & Immunology; Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery