Sunney Chan Lecture
The 9th Annual Sunney Chan Lecture

2:30 pm, Tuesday, September 24, 2013

(Venue Ta-shue Chou Memorial Lecture Hall)

Design of metabolism for production of fuel and chemicals


n the first century of biochemical research, the focus has been on discovery and understanding of mechanisms for cellular reactions, signaling, and regulation. To date, the pathways and genes involved in cellular metabolism have largely been mapped out, along with reaction mechanisms in sufficient details. The time is ripe for re-designing metabolic networks for a specific purpose, say, replacing petroleum, which serves as the raw material for the majority of fuels and chemicals used today. In this regard, biochemistry provides a unique advantage because of its superb specificity in reactions involving carbon compounds. To replace traditional petroleum-based chemical production, next-generation biological synthesis should address fundamental issues of biochemical pathway design to improve versatility, yield, and productivity.   We have accomplished synthesis of various non-native compounds such as n-butanol and isobutanol, from various renewable resources including sugars, cellulose, CO2, and waste protein, by engineering synthetic metabolic pathways in E. coli, Clostridium, Ralstonia, and cyanobacteria. We have also redesigned a fundamental pathway to reverse the glyoxylate cycle for acetyl-CoA synthesis, which paves the way for CO2 fixation without Rubisco. In this talk, we will discuss design principles for re-wiring metabolic networks in living organisms.  Biochemical, thermodynamic, and kinetic constraints will be addressed.   We will discuss potential successes and challenges to harvest sunlight and CO2 for fuel and chemical synthesis.



Prof. James C. Liao
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Professor and Chair Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. James C. Liao, Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, UCLA, is a pioneer in Metabolic Engineering, Synthetic Biology, and Systems Biology. He received his BS degree from National Taiwan University and PhD from University of Wisconsin-Madison. After working as a research scientist at Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, NY, he started his academic career at Texas A&M University in 1990 and moved to UCLA in 1997. He was elected Fellow of American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, 2002, and received numerous awards, including NSF Young Investigator Award (1992), Merck Award for Metabolic Engineering (2006), Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering Division award of American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) (2006), Charles Thom Award of the Society for Industrial Microbiology (2008), Marvin Johnson Award of American Chemical Society (2009), Alpha Chi Sigma Award of AIChE (2009), James E. Bailey Award of Society for Biological Engineering (2009), and Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (2010), and the White House Champion of Change” for innovations in renewable energy (2012). In 2013, he was elected Member of National Academy of Engineering, USA.

Honors and Special Recongnition Receive

  • National Talented Young Scientist, Taiwan 1976.
  • Research Initiation Award, NSF, 1990.
  • Du Pont Faculty Development Award, 1992.
  • National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, 1992.
  • Texas Engineering Experiment Station Select Young Faculty Award, 1993.
  • Halliburton Professorship, 1995.
  • Texas Engineering Experiment Station Fellow, 1996.
  • Dow Chemical Faculty Fellow, 1997.
  • Professor of the Year, 1997, AIChE Student Chapter, UCLA.
  •  Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, 2002.
  • Professor of the Year, 2005. AIChE student chapter at UCLA.
  • Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division Award, AIChE, 2006.
  • Merck Award in Metabolic Engineering, 2006.
  • Chancellor’s Professorship, University of California, Los Angeles, 2008.
  • Charles Thom Award, Society for Industrial Microbiology, 2008.
  • Marvin J. Johnson Award, Biochemical Technology Division, American Chemical Society, 2009.
  • Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 2009.
  • James E. Bailey Award, Society for Biological Engineering, 2009.
  • Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, 2010.
  • Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Chair, 2011
  • White House “Champion of Change” for Innovations in Renewable Energy, 2012
  • Member, National Academy of Engineering, 2013


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