Current Lab Members


Graduate Students

Laura Lee –
My research is focused on understanding the cellulolytic capabilities of the thermophilic Caldicellulosiruptor species. I am currently investigating, and attempting to improve with genetic manipulation, the ability of these microbes to bind to lignocellulose, as well as focusing on pan/meta/genomic analysis of this genus to understand ‘Caldi‘ world as a whole.

Outside of research, I love playing games of all types (e.g. chess, video/board games), participating in science outreach, and sitting down with a good book and my cats. I am also the 2014 and 2016 Kelly Lab Bake-Off Champion.


Ben Zeldes –
My research is focused on metabolic pathways in extreme thermophiles. I am especially interested in inorganic energy sources, such as hydrogen gas and elemental sulfur, and unusual pathways for carbon fixation utilized by these organisms. These pathways offer promising alternatives to the typical routes for biological production of chemicals and fuels.



James Counts
My research area focuses on extreme thermoacidophiles, which are capable of surviving at low pH (less than 4) and high temperatures (in excess of 70C). Interestingly, some of these organisms thrive by utilizing inorganic substrates (metals or sulfur compounds) for metabolic activities. Thus, I am utilizing genetics, transcriptomics, and proteomics to better understand the mechanisms by which these organisms grow and resist the toxic effects of these substrates.

Beyond lab work, I enjoy photography, yoga, running, hiking, and traveling.


Chris Straub –
My areas of research involve engineering extreme thermophiles for biofuel/biochemical production. The first portion of my research includes optimizing sustainable lignocellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass and poplar for utilization by the extreme thermophile Caldicellulosiruptor bescii via exploration of economic pre-treatment and fermentation conditions. The second portion involves the metabolic engineering of heterologous pathways within Caldicellulosiruptor bescii and Pyrococcus furiosus to convert substrates to desirable fuels and chemicals.

I am a 2007 graduate of Penn State with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. After acquiring my undergraduate degree , I spent seven years at Dupont in Delaware / New Jersey working in the specialty fluorochemicals and fluoropolymers businesses. In my free time, I enjoy visiting national parks, hiking, sports, and outdoor activities.


James Crosby –
My research interests involve engineering Caldicellulosiruptor species to produce useful commodity chemicals from lignocellulose. I am especially interested in using metabolic modeling to connect sugar utilization to product yield, with the goal of optimizing engineered pathways.

Prior to joining the Kelly lab, I worked for DuPont for four years in environmental remediation and fluorochemicals development.  Outside of research, I enjoy playing ultimate, biking, and traveling.


Tunyaboon (New) Laemthong –
My research involves engineering C. bescii to produce desirable products from cellulosic materials, characterizing the mechanism how C. bescii enzymatically hydrolyzes lignocellulose to simple sugars, and determining the pathways by which the flow of carbon and electrons to end products are constituted.

Apart from research, I enjoy playing badminton and traveling.



Recent Past Members

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Ph.D. Students
Jonathan Conway UNC Chapel Hill, Dept. of Biology, NC
Andrew Loder Novozymes, Franklinton, NC
Garrett Wheaton Self-Employed Entrepreneur
Jeff Zurawski Amgen, Juncos, Puerto Rico
Aaron Hawkins Novozymes, Franklinton, NC
Hong Lian School of Public Health, Xiamen University, China
Arpan Mukerjee Alexion Pharmaceuticals, New Haven, CT
Jaspreet Notey KBI Biopharma, Durham, NC
Andrew Frock Novozymes, Franklinton, NC
Master’s Students
Jun Gao TVS, Inc., RTP, NC
Lance Driskill Diagnostic Radiology, Plano, TX
Rockey Bandlish Illumina, San Diego, CA
Pascal Leduc Bonduelle, Borderes, France
Olga D’Hennezel Merck and Co., Durham, NC
Post-Docs/Visiting Scientists
Piyum Khatibi Novozymes, RTP, NC
Nick Vitko UNC Chapel Hill, NC
Javier Izquierdo Hofstra Univ.,Dept. of Biology, Hempstead, NY
Sara Blumer-Schuette Oakland Univ., Dept. of Biological Sciences, Oakland, MI
Yejun Han Chinese Acad. Sci, Beijing, China
Jason Nichols Syngenta Corp., RTP, NC