Systems Biology Lab

What is the Systems Biology Lab?

Our research aims to make a rigorous engineering framework for the rational modification of microorganisms for the production of chemicals, including everything from high-value natural products to molecules with desirable fuel properties. At the molecular level, we are interested in designing and characterizing novel genetic parts that are useful for constructing larger modules. At the cellular level, our work involves processing high-throughput “omic” datasets to understand component interactions at a systems-level, which are used to verify metabolic models and guide evolutionary analysis.

Our group uses complementary computational and experimental techniques that blend systems and synthetic biology approaches to design, model, construct and characterize biological function.


Dr. Fong giving a talk at the inaugual TEDxRVA

Our Team

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Dr. Stephen Fong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering and a Fellow in the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. He received his PhD in Bioengineering from UCSD in 2004. Dr. Fong has expertise in systems biology and metabolic engineering with background in strain development for chemical production and computational modeling. As a graduate student, Dr. Fong completed the first-ever study that used large-scale metabolic modeling to design and implement novel chemical production into organisms. Three design strategies were identified to produce lactic acid from the bacterium, Escherichia coli. All three engineered designs produced >1 g/L lactic acid starting from 2 g/L glucose where the control, unmodified strain produced no lactic acid.

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Qiang Yan is a PhD student in the department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering. My research is focused on the use of microbial metabolic pathways for production of pharmaceutical or novel compounds. I am currently focused on production of high value-added chemical from chitin in microbial systems.

Research Interests

synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, systems biology

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Jason Liu joined the lab in 2015 as a PhD student. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering. His research interests include renewable energy and synthetic biology. In his spare time, he likes to swim and practice guitar.

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John Daye is a Masters student in the department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering. With his undergraduate background in biochemistry, John’s research is focused on integrating biological systems with conductive materials. In his spare time, he enjoys working out and exploring Richmond.

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Stephen Wunsch is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Bioinformatics at VCU. His current work utilizes his experience in the fields of Molecular Biology and Computer Science to build upon methods and scripts used to perform constraint-based reconstruction and analysis of genome-scale networks. In his spare time, he enjoys trying to play basketball and coffee breaks.

Kelsey Fitzgerald is an undergraduate Chemistry and Chemical and Life Science engineering double major. She is primarily interested in microbiology, and is interested in conducting research in synthetic biology. In her spare time she likes to spend time with friends, bake, and read manga.

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Zach Canfield is an undergraduate researcher in synthetic biology and a chemistry and chemical engineering double major at VCU. His research interests are primarily in biological engineering, but he holds a strong fascination for the chemical sciences. In his spare time he also enjoy making music with friends and long walks on the beach...

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Pooja Nanjannavar is an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering. She hopes to conduct further research in the fields of synthetic biology and biological engineering. In addition to lab work, she also loves to volunteer with kids and crochet.

image of Pooja Nanjannavar

Vanessa Vaughan is an undergraduate going for a double major in Chemistry and Chemical Engineer with minors in Math and Statistics. She is very interested in biological systems engineering with a special place in her heart for statistics and chemistry. She is a connoisseur of fine cuisine and likes to make cool stuff in her spare time.

image of Vanessa Vaughan