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SD-RET Research Project Example 7:

Engineering a Methanotroph for Enhanced Biopolymers Production from Methane 

Research mentor: Dr. Rajesh K. Sani, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Lab Overview:  Dr. Rajesh Sani and his team at South Dakota Mines are heading a project to investigate methane cycling in deep and extreme environments, and to develop new biological routes using previously unexplored and novel microorganisms from extreme environments for converting methane into value-added products such as liquid biofuels, biopolymers, and direct current electricity.

SD-RET research project: Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are a family of biodegradable thermoplastic polyesters produced by microorganisms. They have a great demand in biomedical and industrial sectors, but current biosynthesis methods suffer from poor structural properties, low yield, and high cost. Application of methanotrophs to produce PHAs by oxidizing greenhouse gas (e.g., methane) can turn out to be a transformative concept because of its double-fold advantage of producing the biopolymers simultaneously by tackling the issue of Global Warming (see Figure).

The SD-RET RAs will:

  • Regulate control over biopolymer production in an unexplored bacterium
  • Improve substrate (methane) uptake for enhanced biopolymer production
  • Receive training in Gas to Liquid Fuels, Extremophiles, Aerobic Microbiology, and Microbial degradation kinetics
  • Learn “Genome to Phenome” molecular techniques including genetic engineer/genome editing, various spectroscopic techniques, and Bioinformatics


  • The SD-RET RAs will generate mutants of a methanotroph which will convert methane into PHA at greater rates
  • Produce bioplastic which could replace synthetic plastic

Examples of alignment to the Next Generation Science/Common Core State Standards 3, 22:

  • HS-LS1-7: Illustrate the principles of degradation of lignocellulosic biomass by bacteria, and use the liberated energy synthesize biopolymers 
  • A-CED: Create equations that describe relations between organic wastes and biopolymer produced by bacteria.
  • 3-ESS2-1:  Represent data in tables and graphical displays to describe the enhanced conversion of greenhouse gas into biopolymers. 

Application Process

Research Experience Teacher 

1. Submit:
CV, Vitae, Resume, Biography

2. Submit: 
1 page brief of how you will utilize this experience in your classrooms/teaching

3. Project preference:
list your top two choices

4. Submit:
Send All items to Robb Winter via email: