Synthetic Biology
@ Shao Group

Synthetic Biology


The advent of synthetic biology has revolutionized our ability to understand molecular mechanisms in complex biological processes, re-program genetic coding, and create novel functions. Our group is interested in both biochemical engineering and biomedical engineering, with the long-term goal to elucidate the ‘functional genomics’ of high-performing microbial species that have unique genetic, biochemical, metabolic, and physiological features. We strive for developing platform technologies to provide generalizable strain-engineering solutions, enabling rapid, functional modifications of high-performance microbes, and exploring their potentials as microbial factories and/or disease models.


novel microbial manufacturing platforms for the production of value-added compounds


biocatalysis and catalysis to nurture a sustainable biorenewable chemical industry


core design principles to streamline nonconventional microbial host development


microbial consortia to perform complex tasks


nucleosome-depleted sequences for novel applications in synthetic biology


yeasts as models for studying human diseases and disorders

The Most Recent


Dr. Shao was awarded the 2018 NSF CAREER award

May 26, 2018

Shao group was recently awarded the 5-year NSF CAREER award to study the noncoding nucleosome-depleted sequences and exploring their novel applications in synthetic biology.

A new postdoc opening in the Synthetic Biology area

Nov 6, 2017

Shao group has a new postdoc opening in the area of synthetic biology, specifically related to elucidating generic design rules in exploring non-model microorganisms. Applicants should send a cover letter and CV to Dr. Zengyi Shao at

Shao group attended Spiegelman Symposium at University of Illinois

Oct 22, 2017

The Spiegelman Symposium is in honor of University of Illinois microbiologist Sol Spiegelman and his work with recombinant DNA technology. The picture below captured Shao group’s students standing in front of Dr. Shao’s last poster at Illinois when she was a postdoc there.

Aric won the first place in the perfect pitch competition at CBIRC annual meeting

Oct 20, 2017

Aric’s 90-sec perfect pitch entitled “Isogenic Consortia” won the first place in the Perfect Pitch Competition at CBiRC Annual Meeting in Oct. Well done, Aric!

Miguel won “Best of BIOT” award at ACS 2017

Aug 20, 2017

Miguel’s talk entitled “Multilevel Engineering of the Upstream Module of Aromatic Amino Acid Biosynthesis in Saccharomyces cerevisiae for High Production of Polymer and Drug Precursors” at the 2017 ACS National Meeting in San Francisco was awarded “Best of BIOT” by the Division of Biochemical Technology (BIOT). You rock, Miguel!

Research grant from NSF MCB division on studying nonconventional yeasts

Aug 20, 2017

Shao group was recently awarded a 3-year NSF grant on elucidating the core design principles to study novel high-performing yeast species that display highly desirable features that are not possessed by model yeasts.

The first two Ph.D. from Shao family

Miguel and Le successfully defended their thesis “Metabolic Engineering Strategies for High-level Production of Aromatic Amino Acid Pathway Derivatives in Saccharomyces cerevisiae” and “Exploring the Production of High-value Compounds in Plant Catharanthus roseus Hairy Roots and Yeast Yarrowia lipolytica”. Congratulations and best wishes to you two’s next journey!


Shao group and ESTose Biorenewables, LLC were awarded Regents Innovation Fund

July 1, 2017

This RIF grant will support the R&D of yeast-based microbial cell factories to produce plant-sourced natural products originated from aromatic amino acid pathways.

Shao group’s patent was filed

June 30, 2017

Based on the great work of Mingfeng, Miguel, and Meirong, our group’s patent entitled “Building Yeast Factories for Production of Aromatic Compounds-from Building Blocks to Plant Secondary Metabolites” was filed (ISURF#04508, 2017).

ISU CBE faculty involved in outreach program at Saylorville Visitor Center Theater

July 1, 2017

A team led by Dr. Jarboe, Dr. Mansell, and Dr. Shao went to Saylorville Visitor Center Theater, discussing with the public audience about building biological factories for the production of medicines, fuels, and chemicals.

Qianhe will start her graduate school study at Northwestern University

June 15, 2017

After spending two years in our group doing research, our undergraduate student Qianhe will start her graduate school journey in the Fall of 2017 at Northwestern University. Go forward, Qianhe!

Deon was awarded the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

March 30, 2017

Deon was selected as the recipient of the prestigious NSF GRFP. Well done and big congratulations!

Carmen was awarded Trinect Fellowship

Dec 30, 2016

Carmen was selected as one of the recipients of the Trinect Fellowship to help support Des Moines Public School curriculum. She will cooperate with 3rd – 5th-grade teachers to incorporate engineering concepts into class material. The whole program was funded by NSF, aiming to create a new model to enhance elementary teachers’ preparedness to teach STEM subjects. Look forward to seeing a broader impact of our efforts!

Miguel was awarded Research Excellence Award

Dec 30, 2016

Miguel was selected as the 2016 recipient of the College of Engineering Research Excellence Award. Big congratulations!


Shao was appointed as Jack R. and Carol A. Johnson Faculty Fellow

Dec 30, 2016

Prof. Shao was nominated as the recipient of Jack R. and Carol A. Johnson Faculty Fellowship in 2017-2018.

Deon was awarded Presidential Fellowship

Dec 30, 2016

Welcome Deon to join Shao group. His strong academic background has made him the awardee of the 2017 Presidential Fellowship. Congratulations!

Shao was the recipient of Iowa Energy Center Impact Award

Dec 30, 2016

Prof. Shao was selected as one of the awardees of 2016 Iowa Energy Center Impact Award. She will present her group of research in Iowa Energy Summit in the Fall.