Research

The Torres Lab, part of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, focuses on microbiological technologies that provide energy or high value chemicals to society.  Our goal is to make use of microorganisms and their complex enzymatic machinery to carry out reactions that are difficult or impossible through any other known chemical route.  Our main research topics are microbial electrochemistry, fermentations, and photosynthetic production of biofuels.

 

Microbial Electrochemistry

Anode-respiring bacteria (ARB) are capable of utilizing an anode as a solid electron acceptor, while oxidizing a variety of electron donors (substrates).  Thus, ARB can be used to convert organic compounds or wastes into an electrical current.  This current can in turn be used for a variety of electrochemical reactions, generating products of interest.  The current produced by ARB can also be used as an analytical signal that monitors the respiration rate of ARB.  Through this concept, we use ARB in the lab to understand kinetics of microbial metabolism.


Fermentations

From alcohol production to municipal wastewater sludge digestion, fermentation plays a crucial role in biotechnology.  Our lab focuses on optimizing fermentations, developing novel processes and reactors, as well as finding new microorganisms to optimize fermentative pathways.



Photosynthetic biofuel production

All the energy on the planet comes from the sun.  Our most direct route to produce renewable biofuels is through the use of photosynthetic microorganisms.  Our lab focuses on collaborations with various research teams to optimize photobioreactor designs and processes.  Our goal is to create optimal conditions in the reactors so that microoganisms maximize biofuel production.