Melany Villegas

PhD Candidate


Originally from Colombia, Melany graduated with honours with a BSc in Biology and emphasis in Biotechnology and Conservation Biology from the Pontifical Xavierian University in Cali, Colombia before leaving her country in 2017 to start her research journey in several multidisciplinary and multicultural lab environments, from where she obtained her MSc from the International Master of Science in Marine Biological Resources (IMBRSea), a joint program with several universities in Europe. For her thesis, she investigated the effect of the heterologous expression of chromoproteins in the photosynthesis and growth rates of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii at Liege University in Belgium. Since 2021, Melany is a PhD student in the Sustainable & Synthetic Biotechnology Group at KAUST under the supervision of Professor Kyle Lauersen.

Research Interests

She is currently working with a group of extremophilic microalgae, the Cyanidiales, aiming to develop tools for the fluorescent screening of the heterologous expression of isoprenoid production genes and catalysers from the carotenoid pathway in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. In addition, due to the metabolic flexibility and resilience of these organisms, she aims to use engineered strains to take up the nutrients from waste waters while accumulating valuable compounds and biomass.

Selected Publications

Villegas-Valencia M., González-ReyesL. A., Asencio- SantofimioH., Gutierrez-MontesJ. O., GarcíaA., & Garzón-GaviriaS. (2020). Analgesic and neuromotor effects of two extracts of Zanthoxylum rhoifolium (Rutaceae) in the Swiss albino mouse (Mus musculus). Vitae, 27(3). vitae.v27n3a03


  • M.Sc. Marine Biological Resources, Ghent University, Marche Polytechnic University, University of Algarve, and Liege University, 2019-2021
  • B.Sc. Biology, Pontifical Xavierian University, 2013-2018


  • The International Relations Office of The Pontifical Xavierian University Travel Grant, 2017
  • Bachelor ́s thesis awarded with honorable mention by the Faculty of Engineering for Excellence, 2018
  • Erasmus Mundus scholarship to pursue MSc, Ghent University, 2019-2021

KAUST Affiliations

Sustainable & Synthetic Biotechnology Group

Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering

Research Interests Keywords

microalgae Algal Biotechnology Cyanidiales Isoprenoid production Extremophiles