Roy J. Carver Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology

Nikolau Group - Scientists

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(listed alphabetically)

Libuse Brachova photo

Libuse BRACHOVA, Associate Scientist and Lab Manager


Responsibilities summary: I am the Nikolau laboratory manager, with research interest in the biotin biosynthetic pathway.

Biotin is an essential cofactor for enzymes transferring carboxyl groups between substrates. The biotin biosynthetic pathway has not been fully elucidated in plants. The early steps leading to pimeloyl CoA remain unknown. The next step utilizing pimeloyl-CoA and alanine is catalyzed by enzyme 8-amino-7-oxononanoate synthese (KAPA), followed by 7,9-diaminopelargonic acid synthese, dethiobiotin synthetase, and biotin synthase. Our resent research is focused on characterizing a gene that may be involved in this biotin biosynthesis, a homolog of a gene that in E. coli is located in biotin operon, but its biochemical function remains unknown.

Hometown: Prague, Czech Republic. Degrees: BS in Biochemistry, Charles University, Prague; MA in Biochemistry, Charles University, Prague; PhD in Biochemistry, Institute of Physiology, Czechoslovak Academy of Science, Prague. Research interests: My research is focused on study of proteins and genes involved in biotin metabolism. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: Working with a group of people who are dedicated to science, but also value the meaning of friendship, collaboration and help to others. Fun fact: I started to play tennis a couple years ago, and now I am addicted to it; I have to play tennis almost every day.

Alexis CAMPBELL photo

Alexis CAMPBELL, Associate Scientist


Research project summary: My research is focused on the molecular characterization of the biocatalytic machinery of fatty acid elongase (FAE) systems and understanding what types of gene elements impact fatty acid synthesis.  FAE systems synthesize very long chain fatty acids (> 18 carbon atoms in length), and are traditionally difficult to study due genetic redundancy and the membrane nature of the system. To overcome this, I am using techniques from synthetic biology and engineering a plant based FAE plug-and-play system in yeast. Additionally, a meta-analysis of global changes in the yeast transcriptome identified novel Fatty Acid Biosynthesis Regulation (FAB-R) gene candidates. Validation and characterization of the FAB-R gene candidates is being accomplished by four separate approaches: 1) Overexpression/deletion strategies; 2) Metabolite and transcriptome analyses of the fab-r single and double knockout strains; 3) Interrogation of the transcript/metabolite relationships by co-expression analysis; 4) Course-based authentic research model that extends this research into the undergraduate curriculum.

Hometown: West Des Moines, Iowa. Degrees: BS in Biology, Iowa State University; PhD in Plant Biology, Iowa State University. Thesis title: Fatty acid elongase (FAE) systems: An investigation of genetic redundancy. Research interest/s: Use of metabolic biochemistry as a means to bioengineer a set of desired products. I enjoy scientific research because it allows the integration of multiple disciplines for the investigation of specific research questions. My research has benefited from a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates plant biology, biochemistry, genetics, bioinformatics, and biological/chemical engineering.  Teaching and development of scientific educational programs is a growing interest of mine. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: The unique environment that has been built. Since beginning in Basil's lab with an NSF-REU undergraduate internship, Summer 2002, it was clear that regardless of education level, we are all here to help teach and advance each other. This includes Basil, who makes time to discuss science (and other topics on occasion!) regardless of how busy he may be. This type of environment is very stimulating and beneficial to a growing scientist. The Nikolau lab continually presents opportunities and challenges to enhance one’s scientific self daily. Fun fact: I have a daughter named Mya.  She keeps me smiling, entertained, in awe and busy...motherhood has been the greatest blessing!

Reid CLAUSSEN photo

Reid CLAUSSEN, Research Associate

Responsibilities summary: BRL floor manager and rotating research associate

Hometown: Bettendorf, IA. Degree: BS in Biology, Iowa State University. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: I really enjoy the atmosphere and the opportunities that the Nikolau group has offered me. I find myself working harder than I ever had before, and I attribute this to the community of researchers with whom I interact. Fun fact: I am part of a family-run cattle business called 4RC. It stands for Ron, Ross, Ryan and Reid Claussen. My sister and I created a website for the business.

Geng DING photo

Geng DING, Assistant Scientist


Research project summary: My research project focuses on integrated and dynamic multi-spectroscopic in situ imaging of plant metabolism at the level of subcellular compartments. Our goal is to dynamically visualize and chemically characterize the breadth of lipid metabolism, from biosynthesis to degradation, providing crucial information to understand the processes affecting physical and chemical lipid boundaries related to systems-level regulation of plant metabolism.

Hometown: Beijing, China. Degree: PhD. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Iowa State University. Research interests: Plant biochemistry and metabolism. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: The atmosphere in Nikolau group is very open. We are not only colleagues but also friends. Fun fact: Becoming a super-mom.

Rkia Moutiq photo

Rkia MOUTIQ, Visiting Scientist

Research project summary: Study of wild chamomile diversity in Morocco based on essential oil composition and DNA sequencing.

Hometown: Casablanca/Rabat. Current professional position: Researcher at the National Institute of Agronomical Research (INRA), Morocco. Degree: PhD in plant breeding, Iowa State University. PhD thesis title: Identification of quantitative trait loci (QTL) associated with flowering, vegetative traits and photoperiod response in maize (Zea mays L.). Research interests: Study of medicinal and aromatic plants: domestication, breeding, identification of valuable compounds and linking compounds to traits and to effects. Looking foreward to or likes best about working with the Nikolau group: I just arrived but I already like the teamwork. I also like the diversity of the research going on in the lab and the organization. I believe it is a wonderful place where I can learn a lot and I hope I can be helpful to the whole group. Fun fact: I am very friendly, an open person, and I like to be helpful and I like to work in a team.

Ludmilla RIZSHSKY photo

Ludmila RIZHSKY, Assistant Scientist
Medicinal Plant Consortium


Responsibilities summary: My research in Nikolau lab began with metabolic analysis of bioactive extracts and fractions from the medicinal plants Hypericum, Echinacea and Prunella, as part of the Center for Research on Botanical Dietary Supplements. My current project focuses on characterization of alkamide biochemical pathways in Echinacea plants, as part of the Medicinal Plant Consortium. In addition, I am co-advising graduate and undergraduate students studying surface lipid biosynthesis pathways.

Hometown: Born in Sankt-Petersburg, Russia; hometown is Jerusalem, Israel. Degrees: BS in Molecular Biology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel; MS in Biotechnology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; PhD in Biology, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. MS thesis title: Development of transgenic plants with enhanced resistance to pathogens. PhD thesis title: Molecular analysis of oxidative stress response in plants. Research interests: Fingerprinting analysis and chemical identification of phytochemicals in herbal supplements used in alternative medicine; the study focused on Echinace, Hypericum and Prunella. Fun fact: Almost all members of my family were born in different countries. Another fun fact – my army rank is higher than my husband’s.

Bo XIE photo

Bo XIE, Associate Scientist; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Chemistry Department


Responsibilities summary: Mass spectrometry imaging for plant metabolomics.

Hometown: Jieshou, Anhui, P.R. China. Degrees: BS in Chemistry Education, Anhui Normal University, Wuhu, Anhui, PR China; MS in Chemistry, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Anhui, PR China; PhD in Chemistry, Center for Biological Mass Spectrometry, School of Medicine, Boston University. MS thesis title: Synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials. PhD thesis title: Characterization of glycoproteins by mass spectrometry. Research interests: Mass spectrometry imaging for plant metabolomics. Likes best about working with the Nikolau group: Friendly colleagues, diverse projects.Fun fact: I have 40 pairs of shoes but I only wear several of them. I hope, one day, I will open a nice and cozy restaurant.