Graduate Student Kate Curran Wins Excellence in Research Award
Graduate student Kate Curran was awarded the John J. McKetta Jr. Chemical Engineering Award for Excellence in Research at the Graduate and Industry Networking (GAIN) poster competition hosted by the Graduate Engineering Council February 27, 2013.
Curran’s poster, “Metabolic Engineering of Muconic Acid Production in Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” was one of three from the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering to be recognized. The work was also the subject of a paper published in the journal Metabolic Engineering earlier this year .
Curran’s project focused on metabolically engineering yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is the yeast responsible in the production of bread, beer and wine, to produce muconic acid. This acid can be used to make nylon, polyurethane, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and other such polymers. She is also interested in developing novel synthetic approaches for generically rewiring this organism.
Currently, these polymers are made from petroleum, but a biological method of production that is safe and sustainable is desired. This project successfully produced muconic acid in yeast for the first time. Future work is focusing on increasing the yield to make the process more economical.
“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work on this project,” Curran said. “I expect that in the near future we will be able to engineer microorganisms to produce almost anything we want, and I’m very excited to be a part of that.”
Curran is advised by Professor Hal Alper. Alper’s group focuses on the production of biomolecules, fuels, and pharmaceuticals through metabolic and cellular engineering.
“Kate’s work demonstrates the power of metabolic engineering and this is a very exciting award for her to win,” said Hal Alper. “Kate continues to work at the frontier of both synthetic biology and metabolic engineering and is developing novel, powerful approaches for controlling gene expression in yeast cells—a critical facet of any project from biofuels to biochemicals production.”