Thomas Wood

Protein Engineering of Hydrogenases for Hydrogen Production

OVERVIEW: Molecular hydrogen is an environmentally-clean fuel; hence, we produce hydrogen with enzymes for clean energy. The bacterium we use as a host is the common strain Escherichia coli. To date, we have used metabolic engineering and protein engineering to rearrange the E. coli metabolic pathways so that hydrogen production has been increased 200-fold and to create the best bacterium for hydrogen production. This also represents the first random protein engineering of any hydrogen-related enzyme and the first use of a high-throughput screen for hydrogen production. Our overall goal is to convert cheap carbon sources for bacteria (e.g., glucose or a waste stream) into hydrogen for clean energy.

STUDENT PARTICIPATION: Students will perform a variety of activities to promote this research in clean energy. Current tasks include metabolic engineering of E. coli to increase the yield of hydrogen produced from compounds like glycerol (a byproduct of biodiesel production).

Protein Engineering for Biofilm Dispersal

OVERVIEW: Anywhere water is in the liquid state bacteria protect themselves by forming biofilms. For example, we remove biofilm from our teeth every six months by visiting the dentist’s office. Our goal has been to utilize biofilms to produce all the compounds we currently produce in refineries but instead use biorefineries and green chemical feedstocks.

STUDENT PARTICIPATION: Students will investigate means to control biofilm formation and dispersal so that consortial of bacteria may be harnessed to form beneficial compounds. Currently we are focusing on producing indigoid compounds (e.g., the blue dye used for blue jeans) in biofilm reactors. In these systems, the bacteria are engineered to communicate with one another in microfluidic devices. Research website

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Contact Information

Thomas Wood, Ph.D.
Biotechnology Endowed Chair and Professor of Chemical Engineering



The Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering, established in 1948, is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chemical engineering departments in the nation.

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Department of Chemical Engineering

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The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2574