Wilfred Vermerris

Professor 

Description of Research

Research in Dr. Vermerris’ lab is focused on elucidating biochemical and physiological processes relevant for the genetic improvement of crops that can be used as feedstocks for  renewable fuels and chemicals. We use genetic approaches to not only improve the performance and yield of the crop, but also the bioprocessing characteristics and properties of the materials that can be produced from plant biomass.

Our main focus is on sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor(L.) Moench), a tall (12-15 ft) grass that performs well in hot and dry climates. Several biorefineries in Florida plan to use sweet sorghum as a feedstock for renewable fuels and chemicals, by extracting the juice and fermenting the sugars. Sweet sorghum has traditionally not been produced on a large scale in Florida, and there is a need for new cultivars and varieties adapted to the local growing conditions (poor soils, high pest and disease pressure).

A better understanding of the genes underlying important traits will make the breeding of new cultivars and hybrids much more efficient. We focus specifically on genetic improvement of sugar yield, biomass composition, disease resistance, and efficient use of water, and combine structural biochemistry, genetic mapping, the study of molecular mechanisms underlying plant-microbe interactions and genome editing (CRISPR/Cas9) with field experiments.  

Biofuels and bulk chemicals need to be produced at a low cost in order to be competitive with existing fuels and chemicals produced from fossil fuels. Cost-competitiveness can be accomplished by maximizing crop yield, reducing inputs, streamlining the bioprocessing scheme, and production of high-value co-products that can offset some of the processing costs.  We have developed a process to synthesize nanotubes and nanowires from lignin present in the waste stream of the biorefinery. These lignin nanotubes can be used a delivery vehicles for DNA into human cells in tissue culture, and a number of other applications are under investigation.

Teaching Interests
    • MCB4034L  - Advanced Microbiology Lab, which provides students with hands-on experience related to the design, production, purification and analysis of recombinant proteins in bacteria.
    • MCB 4934 - Undergraduate research

Wilfred Vermerris