Protein Engineering - Metabolic Engineering - Synthetic Biology - Protein & Cellular Biosensors - Extremophiles

Our research group does application driven fundamental research to enable solutions to problems in chemical production, sustainabile environment, materials, and human health. We use genetic engineering and molecular biology to create biomoleccules and biosystems with improved properties for various applications. We use a variety biochemical and biophysical methods to characterize these systems. Our projects are described below.

Microbial Production of Oleochemicals and Polymers - We are engineering yeast to be efficient producers of oleochemicals such as omega-3 fatty acids, specialty fatty acids, dicarboxylic acids, and fatty alcohols. This work involves cloning non-native genes into new microbes, and metabolic engineering to improve pathway flux. This work is supported by funding from the NSF, NASA, and Fats & Protein Research Foundation.

Researchers: Gabriel Rodriguez, Difeng Gao, Murtaza Shabbir Hussain, Michael Spagnuolo, Will Hardy

Collaborators: Rodrigo Martinez-Duarte (Clemson), Ian Wheeldon (UCR)

Genetic & Metbaolic Engineering Tools for Non-Conventional Yeast - We are engineering advanced, fine-tuned, and metabolite responsive genetic engineering tools that enable more precise engineering of non-conventional yeast. We aim to create novel gene expression systems, and genome editing tools, such as CRISPR-Cas9. This work is supported by funding from the NSF, NASA, and FPRF.

Researchers: Murtaza Shabbir Hussain, Gabriel Rodriguez, Difeng Gao, Michael Spagnuolo, Spencer Smith, Dubby Wiseman, Philip Baker, Kylie Burkes

Collaborators: Ian Wheeldon (UCR)

Engineering Utilization of Non-Conventional Feedstocks - We are engineering microbial systems to utilize more recalcitrant and ill-defined feedstocks. Our work includes engineering of xylose metabolism, lignin metabolism, as well utilization of process and human wastes. This work is supported by funding from the NSF, NASA, DOE, and Fats & Protein Research Foundation.

Researchers: Difeng Gao, Michael Spagnuolo, Murtaza Shabbir Hussain, Gabriel Rodriguez, Lauren Gambill, Kaitlyn Scola, Matt Brabender, Jeremy Fowler


Engineering Robust Enzyme Activity - We are studying extremophile enzyme structures in order to learn how enzymes can be engineered for functionality across a wide range of temperatures and environmental conditions. Our work is focused on enzymes important in a broad range of applicationns, including materials degradation, synthesis and biosensing. This work is supported by funding from the US Air Force.

Researchers: Weigao Wang, Tiffany Yu

Collaborators: Sapna Sarupria (Clemson)

Understanding Tethered Protein-Polymer Interactions - We are studying protein-polymer interactions in tethered systems useful for biosensing applications. Our work seeks to develop optimal strategies for enzyme immobilization on complex polymers. This project involves studies of model enzyme systems, as well as enzymes useful for detection of radiological weapons. This work is supported by funding from DTRA.

Researchers: Weigao Wang, Mary Kate Rumph

Collaborators: Sapna Sarupria (Clemson)

Microbial Metabolite Biosensors - We are studying strategies for engineering and deploying transcriptional regulators as metabolic sensors for controlling metabolism and screening mutant libraries. Our work on controlling metabolism focuses on improving the production of microbial biodiesel. We are also working on methods for engineering the specificity of transcriptional regulators to make better biosensors. This work is supported by funding from NSF and SC-INBRE.

Researchers: Allison Yaguchi, Gabriel Rodriguez, Erika Arvay


Improving Protein Engineering Design Strategies - We are developing advanced tools for improving the success rate of directed evolution experiments. We do this by leveraging recent technology advances in directed evolution, genomics, and computational protein engineering. This deeper understanding of protein evolution may result in our capacity to expand the range of known protein function beyond what nature has done. This work is supported by funding from SC-INBRE.

Researchers: Allison Yaguchi


Microbial Radiation Biosensors - We are studying metabolic response and tolerance to different types and doses of ionizing radiation. We are working towards engineering systems that discriminate source and dose of radiation that can be autonomously deployed to report on nuclear weapons proliferation.

Researchers: TBD


Engineering Novel Protein Post-Translational Modifications - Protein-protein interactions are at the heart of microbial sensing systems. We seek to understand how post-translational modifications (PTMs) contribute to protein-ligand interactions, engineer more efficient PTMs, and develop potential therapeutics leveraging PTMs.

Researchers: Allison Yaguchi, William Wiseman


Positions Available

For Graduate Students

The Blenner Research Group is seeking 1-3 graduate students starting in Fall 2016. Prospective students interested in research in the Blenner Research Group should apply to the Clemson University graduate program in the College of Engineering & Science. Clemson graduate students and applying students interested in the Blenner Lab should email here.

MS Students enrolled at Clemson are welcome to do research in our lab. Interested student should send a CV and a brief statement of interests to Dr. Blenner.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Supported postdoctoral fellows should contact Dr. Mark Blenner if you are interested in research in the Blenner Research Group.

For Undergraduate Students

Undergraduate research positions are available only for students willing to spend significant time training and working on high impact research leading to publication in a scholarly journal. Students must be able to work and think independently, must be detailed oriented, and can become meticulous in record keeping. Undergraduates who are interested in protein engineering or synthetic biology for biofuels, sustainable chemical production, or protein therapeutics should send a CV and brief statement of interests here.

Calhoun Honors Students

Current Honors students interested in doing their thesis research in the Blenner lab should contact Dr. Blenner.

Creative Inquiry

Learn more about our project, "Sustainable Chemical Production in Engineered Microorganisms" on the Creative Inquiry website.

Learn more about our project, "Engineering Protein Post-Translational Modifications for Therapeutics" on the Creative Inquiry website.

Preference will be given to students that are willing to train during the summer.