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VP Sang Yup Lee Receives Honorary Doctorate from DTU
Vice President for Research, Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee at the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) during the DTU Commemoration Day 2022 on April 29. The event drew distinguished guests, students, and faculty including HRH The Crown Prince Frederik Andre Henrik Christian and DTU President Anders Bjarklev. Professor Lee was recognized for his exceptional scholarship in the field of systems metabolic engineering, which led to the development of microcell factories capable of producing a wide range of fuels, chemicals, materials, and natural compounds, many for the first time. Professor Lee said in his acceptance speech that KAIST’s continued partnership with DTU in the field of biotechnology will lead to significant contributions in the global efforts to respond to climate change and promote green growth. DTU CPO and CSO Dina Petronovic Nielson, who heads DTU Biosustain, also lauded Professor Lee saying, “It is not only a great honor for Professor Lee to be induced at DTU but also great honor for DTU to have him.” Professor Lee also gave commemorative lectures at DTU Biosustain in Lingby and the Bio Innovation Research Institute at the Novo Nordisk Foundation in Copenhagen while in Denmark. DTU, one of the leading science and technology universities in Europe, has been awarding honorary doctorates since 1921, including to Nobel laureate in chemistry Professor Frances Arnold at Caltech. Professor Lee is the first Korean to receive an honorary doctorate from DTU.
E. coli Engineered to Grow on CO₂ and Formic Acid as Sole Carbon Sources
- An E. coli strain that can grow to a relatively high cell density solely on CO₂ and formic acid was developed by employing metabolic engineering. - Most biorefinery processes have relied on the use of biomass as a raw material for the production of chemicals and materials. Even though the use of CO₂ as a carbon source in biorefineries is desirable, it has not been possible to make common microbial strains such as E. coli grow on CO₂. Now, a metabolic engineering research group at KAIST has developed a strategy to grow an E. coli strain to higher cell density solely on CO₂ and formic acid. Formic acid is a one carbon carboxylic acid, and can be easily produced from CO₂ using a variety of methods. Since it is easier to store and transport than CO₂, formic acid can be considered a good liquid-form alternative of CO₂. With support from the C1 Gas Refinery R&D Center and the Ministry of Science and ICT, a research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee stepped up their work to develop an engineered E. coli strain capable of growing up to 11-fold higher cell density than those previously reported, using CO₂ and formic acid as sole carbon sources. This work was published in Nature Microbiology on September 28. Despite the recent reports by several research groups on the development of E. coli strains capable of growing on CO₂ and formic acid, the maximum cell growth remained too low (optical density of around 1) and thus the production of chemicals from CO₂ and formic acid has been far from realized. The team previously reported the reconstruction of the tetrahydrofolate cycle and reverse glycine cleavage pathway to construct an engineered E. coli strain that can sustain growth on CO₂ and formic acid. To further enhance the growth, the research team introduced the previously designed synthetic CO₂ and formic acid assimilation pathway, and two formate dehydrogenases. Metabolic fluxes were also fine-tuned, the gluconeogenic flux enhanced, and the levels of cytochrome bo3 and bd-I ubiquinol oxidase for ATP generation were optimized. This engineered E. coli strain was able to grow to a relatively high OD600 of 7~11, showing promise as a platform strain growing solely on CO₂ and formic acid. Professor Lee said, “We engineered E. coli that can grow to a higher cell density only using CO₂ and formic acid. We think that this is an important step forward, but this is not the end. The engineered strain we developed still needs further engineering so that it can grow faster to a much higher density.” Professor Lee’s team is continuing to develop such a strain. “In the future, we would be delighted to see the production of chemicals from an engineered E. coli strain using CO₂ and formic acid as sole carbon sources,” he added. -Profile:Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Leehttp://mbel.kaist.ac.krDepartment of Chemical and Biomolecular EngineeringKAIST
Deep Learning-Powered 'DeepEC' Helps Accurately Understand Enzyme Functions
(Figure: Overall scheme of DeepEC) A deep learning-powered computational framework, ‘DeepEC,’ will allow the high-quality and high-throughput prediction of enzyme commission numbers, which is essential for the accurate understanding of enzyme functions. A team of Dr. Jae Yong Ryu, Professor Hyun Uk Kim, and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee at KAIST reported the computational framework powered by deep learning that predicts enzyme commission (EC) numbers with high precision in a high-throughput manner. DeepEC takes a protein sequence as an input and accurately predicts EC numbers as an output. Enzymes are proteins that catalyze biochemical reactions and EC numbers consisting of four level numbers (i.e., a.b.c.d) indicate biochemical reactions. Thus, the identification of EC numbers is critical for accurately understanding enzyme functions and metabolism. EC numbers are usually given to a protein sequence encoding an enzyme during a genome annotation procedure. Because of the importance of EC numbers, several EC number prediction tools have been developed, but they have room for further improvement with respect to computation time, precision, coverage, and the total size of the files needed for the EC number prediction. DeepEC uses three convolutional neural networks (CNNs) as a major engine for the prediction of EC numbers, and also implements homology analysis for EC numbers if the three CNNs do not produce reliable EC numbers for a given protein sequence. DeepEC was developed by using a gold standard dataset covering 1,388,606 protein sequences and 4,669 EC numbers. In particular, benchmarking studies of DeepEC and five other representative EC number prediction tools showed that DeepEC made the most precise and fastest predictions for EC numbers. DeepEC also required the smallest disk space for implementation, which makes it an ideal third-party software component. Furthermore, DeepEC was the most sensitive in detecting enzymatic function loss as a result of mutations in domains/binding site residue of protein sequences; in this comparative analysis, all the domains or binding site residue were substituted with L-alanine residue in order to remove the protein function, which is known as the L-alanine scanning method. This study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) on June 20, 2019, entitled “Deep learning enables high-quality and high-throughput prediction of enzyme commission numbers.” “DeepEC can be used as an independent tool and also as a third-party software component in combination with other computational platforms that examine metabolic reactions. DeepEC is freely available online,” said Professor Kim. Distinguished Professor Lee said, “With DeepEC, it has become possible to process ever-increasing volumes of protein sequence data more efficiently and more accurately.” This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries from the Ministry of Science and ICT through the National Research Foundation of Korea. This work was also funded by the Bio & Medical Technology Development Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Korean government, the Ministry of Science and ICT. Profile: -Professor Hyun Uk Kim (firstname.lastname@example.org) https://sites.google.com/view/ehukim Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering -Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee (email@example.com) Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering http://mbel.kaist.ac.kr
Efficiently Producing Fatty Acids and Biofuels from Glucose
Researchers have presented a new strategy for efficiently producing fatty acids and biofuels that can transform glucose and oleaginous microorganisms into microbial diesel fuel, with one-step direct fermentative production. The newly developed strain, created by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee and his team, showed the highest efficiency in producing fatty acids and biodiesels ever reported. It will be expected to serve as a new platform to sustainably produce a wide array of fatty acid-based products from glucose and other carbon substrates. Fossil fuels, which have long been energy resources for our daily lives, are now facing serious challenges: depletion of their reserves and their role in global warming. The production of sustainable bio-based renewable energy has emerged as an essential alternative and many studies to replace fossil fuels are underway. One of the representative examples is biodiesel. Currently, it is mainly being produced through the transesterification of vegetable oils or animal fats. The research team engineered oleaginous microorganisms, Rhodococcus opacus, to produce fatty acids and their derivatives that can be used as biodiesel from glucose, one of the most abundant and cheap sugars derived from non-edible biomass. Professor Lee’s team has already engineered Escherichia coli to produce short-chain hydrocarbons, which can be used as gasoline (published in Nature as the cover paper in 2013). However, the production efficiency of the short-chain hydrocarbons using E. coli (0.58 g/L) fell short of the levels required for commercialization. To overcome these issues, the team employed oil-accumulating Rhodococcus opacus as a host strain in this study. First, the team optimized the cultivation conditions of Rhodococcus opacus to maximize the accumulation of oil (triacylglycerol), which serves as a precursor for the biosynthesis of fatty acids and their derivatives. Then, they systematically analyzed the metabolism of the strain and redesigned it to enable higher levels of fatty acids and two kinds of fatty acid-derived biodiesels (fatty acid ethyl esters and long-chain hydrocarbons) to be produced. They found that the resulting strains produced 50.2, 21.3, and 5.2 g/L of fatty acids, fatty acid ethyl esters, and long-chain hydrocarbons, respectively. These are all the highest concentrations ever reported by microbial fermentations. It is expected that these strains can contribute to the future industrialization of microbial-based biodiesel production. “This technology creates fatty acids and biodiesel with high efficiency by utilizing lignocellulose, one of the most abundant resources on the Earth, without depending on fossil fuels and vegetable or animal oils. This will provide new opportunities for oil and petroleum industries, which have long relied on fossil fuels, to turn to sustainable and eco-friendly biotechnologies,” said Professor Lee. This paper titled “Engineering of an oleaginous bacterium for the production of fatty acids and fuels” was published in Nature Chemical Biology on June 17. This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries from the Ministry of Science and ICT through the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Korea (NRF-2012M1A2A2026556 and NRF-2012M1A2A2026557). (Figure: Metabolic engineering for the production of free fatty acids (FFAs), fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs), and long-chain hydrocarbons (LCHCs) in Rhodococcus opacus PD630. Researchers have presented a new strategy for efficiently producing fatty acids and biofuels that can transform glucose and oleaginous microorganisms into microbial diesel fuel, with one-step direct fermentative production.) # # # Source: Hye Mi Kim, Tong Un Chae, So Young Choi, Won Jun Kim and Sang Yup Lee. Engineering of an oleaginous bacterium for the production of fatty acids and fuels. Nature Chemical Biology ( https://www.nature.com/nchembio/ ) DOI: 10.1038/s41589-019-0295-5 Profile Dr. Sang Yup Lee firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Professor at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering KAIST
Engineered Microbial Production of Grape Flavoring
(Image 1: Engineered bacteria that produce grape flavoring.) Researchers report a microbial method for producing an artificial grape flavor. Methyl anthranilate (MANT) is a common grape flavoring and odorant compound currently produced through a petroleum-based process that uses large volumes of toxic acid catalysts. Professor Sang-Yup Lee’s team at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering demonstrated production of MANT, a naturally occurring compound, via engineered bacteria. The authors engineered strains of Escherichia coli and Corynebacetrium glutamicum to produce MANT through a plant-based engineered metabolic pathway. The authors tuned the bacterial metabolic pathway by optimizing the levels of AAMT1, the key enzyme in the process. To maximize production of MANT, the authors tested six strategies, including increasing the supply of a precursor compound and enhancing the availability of a co-substrate. The most productive strategy proved to be a two-phase extractive culture, in which MANT was extracted into a solvent. This strategy produced MANT on the scale of 4.47 to 5.74 grams per liter, a significant amount, considering that engineered microbes produce most natural products at a scale of milligrams or micrograms per liter. According to the authors, the results suggest that MANT and other related molecules produced through industrial processes can be produced at scale by engineered microbes in a manner that would allow them to be marketed as natural one, instead of artificial one. This study, featured at the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA on May 13, was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries from the Ministry of Science and ICT. (Image 2. Overview of the strategies applied for the microbial production of grape flavoring.)
Professor Hee-Sung Park Named Scientist of May
(Professor Hee-Sung Park) Professor Hee-Sung Park from the Department of Chemistry was named ‘Scientist of May’ sponsored by the Ministry of Science and ICT and the National Research Foundation of Korea. Professor Park was honored in recognition of his developing a tool to engineer designer proteins via diverse chemical modifications. This approach provides a novel platform for investigating numerous diseases such as cancer and dementia. His research focuses on the production of synthetic proteins and the generation of diverse protein functions as well as the designing and engineering of new translation machinery for genetic code expansion, and the application of synthetic biology techniques for basic cell biology and applied medical science. Post-translational modifications (PTMs) are constantly taking place during or after protein biosynthesis. PTMs play a vital role in expanding protein functional diversity and, as a result, critically affect numerous biological processes. Abnormal PTMs have been known to trigger various diseases including cancer and dementia. Therefore, this technology enables proteins to reproduce with specific modifications at selected residues and will significantly help establish experimental strategies to investigate fundamental biological mechanisms including the development of targeted cancer therapies. Professor Park also received 10 million KRW in prize money.
Distinguished Professor Lee Elected to the NAS
Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering was elected as a foreign associate to the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on May 2. The National Academy of Sciences elected 84 new members and 21 foreign associates in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in their original research. Election to the Academy is widely regarded as one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Professor Lee was also elected in 2010 as a member of the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for his leadership in microbial biotechnology and metabolic engineering, including the development of fermentation processes for biodegradable polymers and organic acids. Until 2016, there are only 12 people worldwide who are foreign associates of both NAS and NAE. He is the first Korean elected to both prestigious academies, the NAS and the NAE in the US. Professor Lee is currently the dean of KAIST Institutes, the world leading institute for multi-and interdisciplinary research. He is also serving as co-chair of the Global Council on Biotechnology and member of the Global Future Council on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum.
Nature Biotechnology Nominates Sang Yup Lee of KAIST for Top 20 Translational Researchers of 2014
Nature Biotechnology, recognized as the most prestigious journal in the field of biotechnology, has released today its list of the Top 20 Translational Researchers of 2014. Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) ranked seventh in the list. He is the only Asian researcher listed. The journal, in partnership with IP Checkups, a patent analytics firm, presents an annual ranking of researchers based on their paper and patent output. The list includes, among others, each researcher’s most-cited patent in the past five years and their H index, a measurement to evaluate the impact of a researcher’s published work utilizing citation analysis. (More details can be found at http://www.nature.com/bioent/2015/150801/full/bioe.2015.9.html.) American institutions made up the majority of the list, with 18 universities and research institutes, and the remainder was filled by KAIST in Korea and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia. Globally known as a leading researcher in systems metabolic engineering, Professor Lee has published more than 500 journal papers and 580 patents. He has received many awards, including the Citation Classic Award, Elmer Gaden Award, Merck Metabolic Engineering Award, ACS Marvin Johnson Award, SIMB Charles Thom Award, POSCO TJ Park Prize, Amgen Biochemical Engineering Award, and the Ho Am Prize in Engineering.
Professor Sang-Yup Lee Receives the Order of Service Merit Red Stripes from the Korean Government
The government of the Republic of Korea named Professor Sang-Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Bio-molecular Engineering at KAIST as the fiftieth recipient of the Order of Service Merit Red Stripes on May 19, 2015. This medal is awarded to government employees, officials, and teachers in recognition of their contributions to public services including education. Professor Lee is regarded as a leading scientist in the field of metabolic engineering, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatics on microorganism producing various primary and secondary metabolites. He contributed significantly to the advancement of bio-based engineering research in Korea. In addition, his research in microorganism metabolic engineering propelled him to the front of his field, making him the world’s founder of systems metabolic engineering, inventing numerous technologies in strain development. Professor Lee has received many patent rights in bioprocess engineering. While at KAIST, he applied for 585 patents and registered 227 patents. In particular, he has applied for 135 patents and registered 99 patents in the past five years, successfully turning research results into commercial applications. Professor Lee said, “I’m glad to contribute to the development of Korean science and technology as a researcher and teacher. I would like to share this honor with my students, master’s and doctoral students in particular, because without their support, it wouldn’t have been possible to pull off the highest level of research results recognized by this medal.”
Metabolically engineered E. coli producing phenol
Many chemicals we use in everyday life are derived from fossil resources. Due to the increasing concerns on the use of fossil resources, there has been much interest in producing chemicals from renewable resources through biotechnology. Phenol is an important commodity chemical, and is a starting material for the production of numerous industrial chemicals and polymers, including bisphenol A and phenolic resins, and others. At present, the production of phenol entirely depends on the chemical synthesis from benzene, and its annual production exceeds 8 million tons worldwide. Microbial production of phenol seems to be a non-viable process considering the high toxicity of phenol to the cell. In the paper published online in Biotechnology Journal, a Korean research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) reported the successful development of an engineered Escherichia coli (E. coli) strain which can produce phenol from glucose. E. coli has been a workhorse for biological production of various value-added compounds such as succinic acid and 1,4-butanediol in industrial scale. However, due to its low tolerance to phenol, E. coli was not considered a viable host strain for the biological production of phenol. Professor Lee"s team, a leading research group in metabolic engineering, noted the genetic and physiological differences of various E. coli strains and investigated 18 different E. coli strains with respect to phenol tolerance and engineered all of the 18 strains simultaneously. If the traditional genetic engineering methods were used, this work would have taken years to do. To overcome this challenge, the research team used synthetic small RNA (sRNA) technology they recently developed (Nature Biotechnology, vol 31, pp 170-174, 2013). The sRNA technology allowed the team to screen 18 E. coli strains with respect to the phenol tolerance, and the activities of the metabolic pathway and enzyme involved in the production of phenol. The research team also metabolically engineered the E. coli strains to increase carbon flux toward phenol and finally generated an engineered E. coli strain which can produce phenol from glucose. Furthermore, the team developed a biphasic extractive fermentation process to minimize the toxicity of phenol to E. coli cells. Glycerol tributyrate was found to have low toxicity to E. coli and allowed efficient extraction of phenol from the culture broth. Through the biphasic fed-batch fermentation using glycerol tributyrate as an in situ extractant, the final engineered E. coli strain produced phenol to the highest titer and productivity reported (3.8 g/L and 0.18 g/L/h, respectively). The strategy used for the strain development and the fermentation process will serve as a framework for metabolic engineering of microorganisms for the production of toxic chemicals from renewable resources. This work was supported by the Intelligent Synthetic Biology Center through the Global Frontier Project (2011-0031963) of the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning through the National Research Foundation of Korea. Process of Phenol Production
Production of chemicals without petroleum
Systems metabolic engineering of microorganisms allows efficient production of natural and non-natural chemicals from renewable non-food biomass In our everyday life, we use gasoline, diesel, plastics, rubbers, and numerous chemicals that are derived from fossil oil through petrochemical refinery processes. However, this is not sustainable due to the limited nature of fossil resources. Furthermore, our world is facing problems associated with climate change and other environmental problems due to the increasing use of fossil resources. One solution to address above problems is the use of renewable non-food biomass for the production of chemicals, fuels and materials through biorefineries. Microorganisms are used as biocatalysts for converting biomass to the products of interest. However, when microorganisms are isolated from nature, their efficiencies of producing our desired chemicals and materials are rather low. Metabolic engineering is thus performed to improve cellular characteristics to desired levels. Over the last decade, much advances have been made in systems biology that allows system-wide characterization of cellular networks, both qualitatively and quantitatively, followed by whole-cell level engineering based on these findings. Furthermore, rapid advances in synthetic biology allow design and synthesis of fine controlled metabolic and gene regulatory circuits. The strategies and methods of systems biology and synthetic biology are rapidly integrated with metabolic engineering, thus resulting in "systems metabolic engineering". In the paper published online in Nature Chemical Biology on May 17, Professor Sang Yup Lee and his colleagues at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Daejeon, Korea present new general strategies of systems metabolic engineering for developing microorganisms for the production of natural and non-natural chemicals from renewable biomass. They first classified the chemicals to be produced into four categories based on whether they have thus far been identified to exist in nature (natural vs. nonnatural) and whether they can be produced by inherent pathways of microorganisms (inherent, noninherent, or created): natural-inherent, natural-noninherent, non-natural-noninherent, and non-natural-created ones. General strategies for systems metabolic engineering of microorganisms for the production of these chemicals using various tools and methods based on omics, genome-scale metabolic modeling and simulation, evolutionary engineering, synthetic biology are suggested with relevant examples. For the production of non-natural chemicals, strategies for the construction of synthetic metabolic pathways are also suggested. Having collected diverse tools and methods for systems metabolic engineering, authors also suggest how to use them and their possible limitations. Professor Sang Yup Lee said "It is expected that increasing number of chemicals and materials will be produced through biorefineries. We are now equipped with new strategies for developing microbial strains that can produce our desired products at very high efficiencies, thus allowing cost competitiveness to those produced by petrochemical refineries." Editor of Nature Chemical Biology, Dr. Catherine Goodman, said "It is exciting to see how quickly science is progressing in this field – ideas that used to be science fiction are taking shape in research labs and biorefineries. The article by Professor Lee and his colleagues not only highlights the most advanced techniques and strategies available, but offers critical advice to progress the field as a whole." The works of Professor Lee have been supported by the Advanced Biomass Center and Intelligent Synthetic Biology Center of Global Frontier Program from the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology through National Research Foundation. Contact: Dr. Sang Yup Lee, Distinguished Professor and Dean, KAIST, Daejeon, Korea (email@example.com, +82-42-350-3930)
10 Technolgies to Change the World in 2012: The Future Technology Global Agenda Council
The Future Technology Global Agenda Council which is under the World Economy Forum and which KAIST’s biochemical engineering department’s Prof. Sang Yeob Lee is the head of, chose the 10 new technologies that will change the world in year 2012. The ten technologies include: IT, synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, Green Revolution 2.0, material construction nanotechnology, systematic biology and the simulation technology of biological systems, the technology to use CO2 as a natural resource, wireless power transmission technology, high density energy power system, personalized medical/nutritional/disease preventing system, and new education technology. The technologies were chosen on the basis of the opinions various science, industry, and government specialists and is deemed to have high potential to change the world in the near future. The Future Technology Global Agenda Council will choose ten new technologies yearly starting this year in order to solve the problems the world now faces. The informatics systems that was ranked 1st place, sifts only the data necessary for decision making out of the overflowing amount of data. Much interest has been spurred at the Davos forum. The synthetic biology and metabolic engineering chosen is expected to play an important role in creating new medicines and producing chemical substances and materials from reusable resources. Biomass has also been chosen as one of the top ten most important technologies as it was seen to be necessary to lead the second Green Revolution in order to stably provide food for the increasing population and to create bio refineries. Nanomaterials structured at the molecular level are expected to help us solve problems regarding energy, food, and resources. Systematic biology and computer modeling is gaining importance in availing humans to construct efficient remedies, materials, and processes while causing minimum effects on the environment, resource reserves, and other people. The technology to convert CO2, which is considered a problem all over the world, into a useful resource is also gaining the spotlight Together with such technologies, wireless power transmission technology, high density energy power system, personalized medical/nutritional/disease preventing system, and new education technology are also considered the top ten technologies to change the world. Prof. Lee said, “Many new discoveries are being made due to the accelerating rate of technological advancements. Many of the technologies that the council has found are sustainable and important for the construction of our future.”
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