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Robert Kelly

Alcoa Professor, Director of NCSU Biotechnology Program

Partners Building II 3313


We are interested in the genomics, physiology, enzymology and biotechnological potential of microorganisms that thrive in extreme environments, i.e., extremes in temperature, pressure, pH, ionic strength, etc. Our primary focus is on extremely thermophilic microorganisms, which are isolated from geothermal sites and volcanic regions and typically have optimal growth temperatures above 70°C. Because of the high temperatures at which these bacteria and archaea can be cultured, they produce highly thermostable enzymes that hold promise as biocatalysts. Metabolic pathways encoded in the genomes of extreme thermophiles have great potential for technologically important biotransformations. Molecular genetics systems have recently become available for several extreme thermophiles, thereby creating opportunities for metabolic engineering and synthetic biology at high temperatures.

Our research efforts are aimed at the interface between biology and engineering. We have addressed issues of fundamental importance in understanding the bioenergetics, biochemistry, physiology and genomics of extreme thermophiles. These studies have given rise to a number of technologically important developments related to bienergy and biofuels, recovery of base, precious and strategic metals from ores, and industrial biocatalysis. Students involved in this research should expect to develop expertise in biochemistry, biophysics, microbiology, molecular biology, and genomics to complement their training in biomolecular engineering.

Research Areas – Biomolecular Engineering, Biocatalysis at Extremely High Temperatures, Microbial Physiology, Functional Genomics, Bioenergy and Biofuels.