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Christopher Johnson

Research Scientist, Biocatalyst Development | 303-275-3803
Orcid ID

Research Interests

Dr. Christopher W. Johnson is a Research Scientist in the Bioprocess R&D group of NREL's National Bioenergy Center (NBC). His research is aimed at developing microbial biocatalysts for conversion of biomass-derived substrates to fuels, chemicals, and materials using a combination of rational and evolution-based approaches. These efforts are primarily focused on the valorization of waste streams from biochemical and thermochemical processes that are rich in lignin, a major component of terrestrial biomass that has been under-utilized due to its recalcitrance and  heterogeneity. By employing a "biological funneling" strategy, engineered strains are able to convert depolymerized lignin to value-added products such  as muconic acid, a precursor to many polymers, including thermoplastics such as  Nylon-6,6 and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). In addition to his research,  Dr. Johnson is also involved in industry outreach aimed at accelerating the transfer of technologies developed in the lab to the marketplace.


  • Ph.D., Molecular Biology, University of Colorado – Anschutz Medical Campus, 2011

  • B.S., Microbiology, Indiana University – Bloomington, 2000

Professional Experience

  • Staff Scientist, NREL, NBC, 2015–present

  • Postdoctoral Researcher, NREL, NBC, 2012–2015

  • Molecular Biologist, Gevo, 2011–2012

  • Research Associate, Metabolix (now Yield10 Bioscience), 2000–2005


  1. "Enzymes and methods for dealkylation of substrates," U.S. Patent Application 15/065,717 (2016)
  2. "Biomass Conversion To Fuels And Chemicals," U.S. Patent Application 14/804,161 (2016)

Featured Publications

  1. "Enhancing muconic acid production from glucose and lignin-derived aromatic compounds via increased protocatechuate decarboxylase activity," Metabolic Engineering Communications (2016)

  2. "Opportunities and challenges in biological lignin valorization," Current Opinion in Biotechnology (2016)

  3. "cis, cis-Muconic acid: separation and catalysis to bio-adipic acid for nylon-6, 6 polymerization," Green Chemistry (2016)

  4. "Aromatic catabolic pathway selection for optimal production of pyruvate and lactate from lignin," Metabolic Engineering (2015)

  5. "Adipic acid production from lignin," Energy & Environmental Science (2015)

  6. "Lignin valorization through integrated biological funneling and chemical catalysis," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2014)

View all NREL publications for Christopher W. Johnson.