CONTACT DETAILSDr Claudia Vickers
Senior Research Fellow/Smart Futures Fellow
Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
Building 75, Cnr Cooper and College Rds
The University of Queensland
St. Lucia, QLD, 4072
p: +61 7 334 63158
f: +61 7 334 63973
I am a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).
I have several areas of research that include basic biology of isoprenoid compounds, industrial production of isoprenoids, carbohydrate metabolism in microbes, and genetic diversity in baobab trees. These diverse research areas are linked though fundamental biology and industrial applications of natural compounds. In particular, I have an interest in using biology to replace current industrial practices (largely based on finite petrochemical resources) with sustainable, renewable, environmentally friendly approaches. To this end, I use the tools of systems and synthetic biology for metabolic engineering of organisms.
Metabolic engineering: the rational redesign of organisms to for production of specific industrially-useful compounds
Isoprenoid compounds are a large and diverse group of natural products with many important primary and secondary biological functions. These functions include antioxidants (tocopherols, carotenoids, isoprene, monoterpenes), membrane stabilisers (sterols, hopanoids), carriers for electron transport (quinines, chlorophylls), plant hormones (gibberellins, abscisic acid), photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic pigments (chlorophylls, carotenoids, etc.), signalling molecules (volatile isoprenoids), vitamins (A, E and K), protein targeting and regulation components (prenyl side-chains), carbohydrate carriers (bactoprenol and dolichols), etc. (see Figure 1 for examples). This diversity of function means that many isoprenoids also have industrial and medical applications, including rubbers, pharmaceuticals, food colourings and additives, nutraceuticals, industrial chemicals, fuels and fuel additives, etc. For these reasons, the biological functions and biosynthesis of isoprenoids are of great interest. There are several core research areas around isoprenoid biology in my group:
In order to develop bioprocesses for industrial production of isoprenoids, a carbon and energy source is required for microbial fermentations. Sucrose is attractive for this purpose for several reasons. We are therefore examining carbohydrate metabolism in industrial microbes, with a focus on sucrose and glucose as alternative feedstocks. I am also involved in a collaboration looking at genetic diversity in the Australian baobab tree. This project has no relevance to my other research projects and I’m doing it just for fun because it’s really interesting and allows me to indulge in my early botanical roots.
Industrial Isoprenoid EngineeringIsoprenoids are a large and diverse group of biochemicals with many biological activities and industrial uses. They are all produced from common five-carbon building blocks, isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl phyrophosphate (DMAPP). IPP and DMAPP are produced via two core isoprenoid pathways, the methylerythritol pyrophosphate (MEP) pathway and the mevalonate (MVA) pathway (see Figure 1). Developing strains with high levels of flux thorough these pathways allows production of a wide variety of isoprenoid compounds. We are interested in two types of isoprenoids:
(1) Isoprene, a chemical feedstock which is polymerized to make rubbers and elastomers
(2) Higher-order isoprenoid compounds with aviation fuel properties (part of the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Alliance)
These chemicals will replace products which are currently produced from petrochemicals. Production via microbial fermentation is more environmentally friendly, uses renewable feedstocks, and results in higher-purity products (thereby decreasing production costs). Cane sugar (sucrose) will be used as a carbon and energy source for fermentation. This allows product diversification for the sugarcane industry; transformation of sucrose to value-added isoprenoid products will allow exploitation of Queensland’s sugar industry to its fullest potential. More on the Industrial Isoprenoid Engineering Program here
Sucrose-to-Bioproducts ProgramThis research group is focused on producing biological replacements for materials currently produced from petrochemical feedstocks. To do this, a carbon and energy source is required for microbial fermentation. Sucrose from sugarcane is abundant and is a primary agricultural industry in Australia. However, development of sucrose as a carbon and energy source is limited because most industrial E. coli strains cannot efficiently use sucrose. We are investigating sucrose utilization in E. coli with the aim of developing sucrose as a carbon and energy source for petrochemical feedstock replacements. We are using production of two compounds, isoprene and the biopolymer polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), as model compounds for engineering high-level productivity in E. coli. We are currently developing a microbial platform for production of butanol and other bioproducts from sucrose. More on the Sucrose-to-Bioproducts Program here
Kimberley Baobab ProjectThere are eight extant species of baobab (Adansonia spp.): six in Madagascar, one (A. digitata) on the African continent and one (A. gregorii) in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. Interestingly, the geographical distribution of the Kimberley species overlaps almost perfectly with a particular type of ancient rock art known as Bradshaw paintings. The aetiology of these painting is under hot debate: some maintain that they are part of the extensive Aboriginal rock art found across Australia, and some maintain that these images were painted by a distinct culture which no longer survives in Australia. What is clear is that these paintings are significantly different from other rock art in Australia in terms of style and materials used. One of the most striking things about these paintings is that they are remarkably reminiscent of African culture. This, and the geographical commonality shared between the paintings and the baobab trees, has prompted us to investigate the possibility of a link between the sources of these two unusual Kimberley features. If this species was brought to Australia by a people from Africa, it should be possible to identify an ancestral population which should be found in a coastal location. If not, genetic diversity should be relatively similar across the Kimberly. If we can identify an ancestral coastal population in Australia, we may then be able to identify the source of the ancestral baobab population by sampling from A. digitata populations in Africa. We are currently collecting baobab genetic samples from across the Kimberley to compare in Phase I of this project.
I work on this project with Jack Pettigrew (The University of Queensland)
More detail here
Biogenic Isoprene EmissionIsoprene is a volatile 5-carbon hydrocarbon emitted by many plant species. It is highly reactive, and is produced in such large quantities from the biosphere that it substantially affects the oxidising potential of the atmosphere. In addition, plants can loose relatively large amounts of carbon and energy during formation of isoprene. We assume that this loss is supported by a biological benefit. I am investigating the biological role of isoprene emission in plants and the molecular biology of the isoprene synthase enzyme. Tobacco, which does not normally synthesise isoprene, has been engineered to produce isoprene by introduction of an isoprene synthase gene. These plants produce high levels of isoprene and display typical emission responses as observed in normally-emitting plant species. Using these plants, along with azygous control plants, the biological role(s) of isoprene can be examined. This research is carried on from my work at Essex University, UK.
I work on this project with Phil Mullineaux (University of Essex), Nick Hewitt and Malcolm Possell (Lancaster University) and Peer Schenk (The University of Queensland)
Are you living or holidaying in the Kimberley? Please help collect boab leaf samples! Instructions for sample collection are here. Sample collection form for Australian boab leaves here
OUTREACH: SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY (Video Links)What is Synthetic Biology? Click here to view.
An animated cartoon aimed at non-scientists, explaining what synthetic biology is. Developed with the Royal Institution of Australia and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.
Synthetic Biology: What does it mean for you? Click here for videos.
A public forum explaining what synthetic biology is and engaging with the public on legislative and ethical issues surrounding synthetic biology. Presented at The Science Exchange, Royal Institution of Australia and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.
Club Cosmos: Synthetic Biology in the Pub Part 1 and Part 2
A pub discussion of synthetic biology at Forresters Hotel, Surry Hills, Sydney. Presented by Club Cosmos (Cosmos Magazine) and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
RiAus PDPlus: Synthetic Biology - Creating life in the lab
Aimed at secondary school teachers as a teaching assistance tool, this is an everyday language explanation of what synthetic biology is, what training you need to do it, and what the industry is like in Australia and across the world. Presented at The Science Exchange, Royal Institution of Australia and supported by the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research
|2011 -||ResTeach Affiliated Academic, School of Chemical Engineering, The University of Queensland, Australia|
|2010 -||Smart Futures Fellow, Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), The University of Queensland, Australia|
|2007-2010||Senior Research Fellow, Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), The University of Queensland, Australia|
|2004-2007||Senior Research Officer, Essex University, England; Visiting Scientist, Lancaster University, England|
|2003-2004||Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, ARC Centre for Integrative Legume Research, The University of Queensland, Australia|
|1999-2003||PhD, The University of Queensland/CSIRO Plant Industry, Australia|
Journal ArticlesPettigrew, J.D.; Bell, K.L.; Bhagwandin, A.; Grinan, E.; Jillani, N.; Meyer, J.; Wabuyele, E.; Vickers, C.E. (2012) Morphology, ploidy and molecular phylogenetics reveal a new diploid species from Africa in the baobab genus Adansonia (Bombacoideae; Malvaceae). Taxon, in press
Vickers, C.E.; Klein-Marcuschamer, D.; Krömer, J.O. (2012) Examining the feasibility of bulk commodity production in Escherichia coli. Biotechnology Letters 34(4): 585-596 PMID: 22160295.
Bruschi, M; Boyes, SJ; Sugiarto, H; Nielsen, LK; Vickers, C.E. (2011) A transferable sucrose utilization approach for non-sucrose-utilizing Escherichia coli strains. Biotechnology Advances, in press. doi:10.1016/j.biotechadv.2011.08.019 PMID: 21907272.
Arifin,Y; Sabri, S.; Sugiarto, H.; Krömer, JO; Vickers, C.E.; Nielsen, L.K. (2011) Deletion of cscR in Escherichia coli W improves growth and poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) production from sucrose in fed batch culture. Journal of Biotechnology, 156(4):275-278. doi:10.1016/j.jbiotec.2011.07.003 PMID: 21782859.
Wicks, J.R.; Oldridge, N.O.; Nielsen, L.K.; Vickers, C.E. (2011) Heart Rate Index - a simple method for prediction of oxygen uptake. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43(10):2005-2012. PMID: 21364476
Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Ryan, A.C.; Hewitt, C.N.; Mullineaux, P. (2011) Isoprene synthesis in plants: lessons from a transgenic tobacco model. Plant, Cell & Environment 34(6):1043–1053. PMID: 21388420. Link
Archer, C.T.; Kim,J.F.;Jeong, H.; Park,J.H.; Vickers, C.E.; Lee, S.Y.; Nielsen, L. (2011) The genome sequence of E. coli W ATCC 9637: comparative genome analysis and an improved genome-scale reconstruction of E. coli. BMC Genomics 12:9 doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-9. PMID: 21208457. Link
Vickers, C.E.; Blank, L.M.; Kroemer, J.O. (2010) Chassis cells for industrial biochemical production. Nature Chemical Biology 6(12):875–877 Link
Lee. J.W.; Choi, S.;Park, J.H.; Vickers, C.E.; Nielsen, L.; Lee, S.Y. (2010) Development of sucrose-utilizing Escherichia coli K-12 strain by cloning β-fructofuranosidases and its application for L-threonine production. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 88(4):905-913 Link
Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Hewitt, C.N.; Mullineaux, P. (2010) Genetic structure and regulation of isoprene synthase in Poplar (Populus spp.). Plant Molecular Biology, 73(4-5): 547 - 558 Link
Joachimsthal, E.L.; Reeves, R.K.H.; Hung, J.; Nielsen, L.K.; Owerkerk, D.; Klieve, A.V.; Vickers, C.E. (2010) Production of bacteriocins by Streptococcus bovis strains from Australian ruminants. Journal of Applied Microbiology 108(2):428-436 Link
Possell, M.; Ryan, A.; Vickers, C.E.; Mullineaux, P.; Hewitt, C.N. (2009) Effects of fosmidomycin on plant photosynthesis as measured by gas exchange and chlorophyll fluorescence. Photosynthesis Research 104 (1): 49 - 59 Link
Vickers, C.E.; Gershenzon, J.; Lerdau,M.T.; Loreto, F. (2009) A unified mechanism of action for volatile isoprenoids in plant abiotic stress. Nature Chemical Biology 5(5):283-291 Link
Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Cojocariu, C.; Velikova, V.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Ryan, A.; Mullineaux, P.M.; Hewitt, C.N. (2009) Isoprene synthesis protects transgenic tobacco plants from oxidative stress. Plant, Cell & Environment 32 (5):520 - 531 Link
Laothawornkitkul J.; Paul N.D., Vickers, C.E., Possell M., Taylor J.E., Mullineaux P.M., Hewitt C.N. (2008). The role of isoprene in insect herbivory. Plant Signaling and Behaviour 3(12):1141-1142 Link
Laothawornkitkul, J.; Paul, Nigel D.; Vickers, C.; Possell, M.; Taylor, J.; Mullineaux, P.; Hewitt, C.N. (2008) Isoprene emissions influence herbivore feeding decisions. Plant, Cell & Environment 31:1410-1415 Link
Vickers, C.E.; Schenk, P.M.; Mullineaux, P.M. Gresshoff, P.M. (2007) pGFPGUSPlus, a new binary vector for gene expression studies and optimising transformation systems in plants. Biotechnology Letters 29:1793-1796 Link
Vickers, C.E.; Xue, G-P.; Gresshoff, P.M. (2006) A novel cis-acting element, ESP, contributes to high level endosperm-specific expression in an oat globulin promoter. Plant Molecular Biology 62 (1-2):195-214 Link
Wilkinson, M.J.; Owen, S.M.; Possell, M.; Hartwell, J.; Gould, P.; Hall, A.; Vickers, C.; Hewitt, C.N. (2006) Circadian control of isoprene emissions from oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Plant Journal 47(6):960-968 Link
Buzas, D.M.; Lohar, D.; Sato, S.; Nakamura, Y.; Tabata, S.; Vickers, C.E.; Stiller, J.; Gresshoff, P.M. (2005) Promoter trapping in Lotus japonicus reveals novel root and nodule GUS expression domains. Plant and Cell Physiology 46(8):1202-12 Link
Schünmann, P.H.D.; Richardson, A.E.; Vickers, C.E.; Delhaize, E. (2004) Promoter analysis of the barley Pht1;1 phosphate transporter gene identifies regions controlling root expression and responsiveness to phosphate deprivation. Plant Physiology 136(4):4205-4214 Link
Schenk, P.M.; Vickers, C.E., Manners, J.M. (2003) Rapid cloning of novel genes and promoters for functional analyses. Transgenics 4:151-156.
Vickers, C. E.; Gresshoff, P.M.; Xue, G.P. (2003) A synthetic xylanase as a novel reporter in plants. Plant Cell Reports 22(2): 135-140 Link
Xue, G-P.; Patel, M.; Johnson, J.S.; Smyth, D.J.; Vickers, C.E. (2003) Selectable marker-free transgenic barley producing a high level of cellulase (1,4-β-glucanase) in developing grains. Plant Cell Reports 21(11): 1088-1094 Link
Non-Peer Reviewed PublicatonsVickers, C.E. (2009) Volatiles may help calm farming stresses. Australian Grain magazine May-June 2009, pp 12-14
ConferencesVickers, C.E. Bruschi, M.; Boyes, S.J.; Nielsen, L.K. (2011) Sucrose-to-Bioproducts: Engineering a sucrose-based E. coli platform for industrial bioproduction. International Conference for Biomolecular Engineering; San Francisco, California; January 16th - 19th 2011
Vickers, C.E. Bruschi, M.; Boyes, S.J.; Nielsen, L.K. (2010) Transferrable sucrose utilization in E. coli. Metabolic Engineering VII; Jeju, Korea; July 13th – July 18th 2010
Vickers, C.E. Arifin, Y.; Archer, C.T.; Sugiarto, A.; Nielsen, L.K. (2010) Sucrose-to-BioProducts: Metabolic Engineering for PHB in Sucrose-Utilising E. coli. Genetics of Industrial Microorganisms; Melbourne, Australia; June 28th – July 1st 2010
Vickers, C.E.; Gershenzon, J.; Lerdau, M.T.; Loreto, F. (2009) A unified mechanism of action for volatile isoprenoids in plant abiotic stress. TERPNET2009, 25th May – 29th May 2009, Tokyo, Japan
Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Cojocariu, C.; Velikova, V.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Mullineaux, P.M.; Hewitt, C.N. (2007) Molecular characterisation of isoprene synthase in poplar and transgenic tobacco. TERPNET2007, 30th April – 5th May 2007, Strasbourg, France (invited)
Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Cojocariu, C.; Velikova, V.; Laothawornkitkul, J.; Mullineaux, P.M.; Hewitt, C.N. (2007) Molecular biology of isoprene emission in poplar and transgenic tobacco. Gordon Research Conference on Biogenic Volatiles and the Atmosphere, 26th February – 5th March 2007, Ventura, California, U.S.A (invited).
Vickers, C.E.; Possell, M.; Hewitt, C.N.; Mullineaux, P.M. (2006) Molecular biology of isoprene emission in poplar and transgenic tobacco. Plastid Preview 2006, 11th – 12th September 2006, Essex University, Colchester, UK
Vickers, C.E.; Gresshoff, P.M.; Xue, G-P. (2003) An oat globulin promoter drives endosperm-specific expression in transgenic barley. Proceedings, ISPMB2003, 23rd - 28th June 2003, Barcelona, Spain.
Vickers, C.E.; Gresshoff, P.M., Xue, G.P. (2001) Deletion analysis of an endosperm-specific promoter isolated from oat. Proceedings, ComBio2001, 1st- 4th October 2000, Canberra, Australia.
Vickers, C.; (2000) Promoting agri-revolution in the cereal world. Proceedings, 15th Australasian Biotechnology Conference, 2-6 July 2000, Brisbane Australia, p.60
Vickers, C.; Gresshoff, P.; Xue, G. (2000) Activity of seed storage protein promoters in barley and wheat. Proceedings, 15th Australasian Biotechnology Conference, 2-6 July 2000, Brisbane Australia, p.83
Vickers, C.E.; Gresshoff, P.M.; Xue, G.P. (2000) Analysis of endosperm-specific promoters in cereal crops. Proceedings, ComBio2000, 11-14th December 2000, Wellington, New Zealand.