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Systems Biology / Metabolic Engineering

Systems biology is an interdisciplinary research field that applies both experimental and computational approaches to understand complex biological systems and interaction between these systems. Unlike molecular biology, systems biology aims at understanding at the system level. High throughput methods are widely applied in systems biology research, such as mutant library construction and screening, functional genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics. In addition, modern computational tools have been developed to process such data and understand the interaction of genes and proteins. Such tools can provide critical information for understanding disease mechanisms and developing new therapies. Meanwhile, such information is useful for metabolic engineering, which aims at optimizing cellular processes (e.g. production of a biological product) by understanding and modifying genetic pathways of an organism.

  1. coli DNA microarray

In BMCE department, students have opportunities to participate in research projects related to system biology and metabolic engineering. For example, Ren lab constructs and screens bacterial mutant libraries to identify the key genes involved in multidrug resistance. Same approach is also applied to improve bacterial solvent tolerance for better biofuel production.

Representative publications

Robert Szkotak, Tagbo H R Niepa, Nikhil Jawrani, Jeremy L Gilbert, Marcus B Jones and Dacheng Ren. “Differential Gene Expression to Investigate the Effects of Low-level Electrochemical Currents on Bacillus subtilis”. AMB Express. 1:39 (2011).

Miao Duo, Mi Zhang, Yan-Yeung Luk and Dacheng Ren, “Inhibition of Candida albicans Growth by Brominated Furanones”. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology. 85: 1551-1563 (2010).


Sangani is collaborating with Professors Kenneth Foster (Physics) and Hiroshi Higuchi (Aerospace Engineering) to understand dynamics of cilium, a slender cylindrical appendage that enables a eukaryotic cell to swim or move fluid. Cilia perform many critical functions: they propel and steer sperm, larvae and many microorganisms, move fluids in the ventricles and respiratory tracts of mammals, and play a role in detection of fluid flow, light, sound, gravity, smells, touch, and taste. The principal aims of a project recently funded by the National Science Foundation are to use high speed imaging techniques together with fluid and solid mechanical analyses to determine the mechanisms responsible for ciliary beating, maneuvering, and control.