Hal Alper Receives Jay Bailey Young Investigator Award

Headshot of Assistant Professor Hal Alper wearing a dark suit with a red tie sitting in front of a dark gray backdrop.Hal Alper, assistant professor and Fellow of the Paul D. and Betty Robertson Meek Centennial Professorship, has been selected by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) to receive the Jay Bailey Young Investigator Award in Metabolic Engineering.

The award recognizes original and creative research accomplishments by a young investigator in the field of metabolic engineering, and is named in honor of the late James E. Bailey, an influential chemical engineering teacher and a pioneer in the field of bioengineering, particularly metabolic engineering.

The Young Investigator Award will be presented to Alper at the Metabolic Engineering X conference, June 15–19, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The biennial conference is organized by the International Metabolic Engineering Society (IMES), a community within AIChE’s Society for Biological Engineering (SBE).

Alper is being honored, in particular, for a July 2012 article in the journal Metabolic Engineering, in which he and his research team demonstrated that xylose transporter capacity (and subsequently catabolic rates) can be altered through the directed evolution of molecular transporter proteins, thus improving those proteins for biotechnological applications. This research established the principle for “molecular transporter engineering,” which can be applied not only to carbohydrate transporters but also to an array of influx and efflux pumps. Alper’s work expanded the scope of metabolic engineering, particularly at the interface of protein engineering, and has also established the foundation for subsequent rewiring of sugar transporter preference.

Alper’s laboratory at UT Austin focuses on metabolic and cellular engineering in the context of biofuel, biochemical, and biopharmaceutical production, with a strong emphasis on fungal host systems. Moreover, his work applies and extends the approaches of related fields such as synthetic biology, systems biology, and protein engineering. He has received numerous honors, including the Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award (2008); the Texas Exes Teaching Award (2009); the DuPont Young Investigator Award (2010); the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award (2011); the UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (2012); the Biotechnology and Bioengineering Daniel I. C. Wang Award (2013); and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2014). Alper earned his BS in chemical engineering at The University of Maryland, College Park, and his PhD in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2006).

The International Metabolic Engineering Society promotes the use of metabolic engineering — the optimization of the genetic and regulatory processes within cells — as an enabling science for bio-based production of advanced materials, pharmaceuticals, food ingredients, chemicals, and fuels. One of its venues for collaboration and information exchange is the Metabolic Engineering Conference, where practitioners share knowledge and discuss current developments in the field.

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