Rice University’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB) this week announced the winners of both the 2012-2013 Hamill Awards, which promote collaboration among Rice faculty, and the 2012-2013 IBB Medical Innovations Awards, which promote collaborations between faculty at Rice and institutions in the Texas Medical Center.
The awards will be formally presented at IBB’s annual awards ceremony and luncheon at noon May 22 on the first floor of the BioScience Research Collaborative. The student recipients of this year’s IBB Travel Grants and BRC Collaborative Prizes will also be honored at the luncheon.
For most environmentalists, the biggest focus in recent years has been the effort to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, but hydrocarbons like oil and gas go to more than just energy. One engineering research team at Rice University believes that it has found a way to replace petroleum with a renewable crop, soybeans, for the production of a crucial industrial chemical.
Succinic acid is commonly used in everything from plastic and polyester to many types of processed foods. Once known as spirit of amber, the substance was historically produced by crushing amber, but was eventually extracted as a by-product from refining crude oil.
But, like many petroleum products, researchers are finding increasingly efficient ways of replicating succinic acid from biomass. In 2004, the U.S. Department of Energy included the chemical among a list of products that could be produced from biological feedstock and should be targeted for further engineering research and development.
Rice scientists George Bennett and Ka-Yiu San first developed a process several years ago using the common research bacterium E. coli to convert basic sugars into succinic acid. That initial process proved reasonably cost-effective, but the pair soon decided to specifically target a major low-cost feedstock – soybean waste.
The humble soybean could become an inexpensive new source of a widely used chemical for plastics, textiles, drugs, solvents and as a food additive.
Succinic acid, traditionally drawn from petroleum, is one focus of research by Rice chemists George Bennett and Ka-Yiu San. In 2004, the Department of Energy named succinic acid one of 12 “platform” chemicals that could be produced from sugars by biological means and turned into high-value materials.
Several years ago, Rice patented a process by Bennett and San for the bio-based production of succinic acid that employed genetically modified E. coli bacteria to convert glucose into succinic acid in a way that would be competitive with petroleum-based production.
The new succinate process developed by Bennett, San and Chandresh Thakker and reported recently in Bioresource Technology promises to make even better use of a cheap and plentiful feedstock, primarily the indigestible parts of the soybean.
Foundation donates seed money for initiatives at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative
Three projects and a scientific meeting have been funded in a new round of John S. Dunn Foundation seed grants, which go to scientists based at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) and their collaborators at other institutions.
The awards were given by the foundation to support projects that foster interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research at the BRC. The Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC) administers the program.
The new project awards, which provide about $100,000 each, will support research into the treatment of gastrointestinal disease, the development of a diagnostic device for epilepsy patients and the creation of split protein biocatalysts for the treatment of disease. These projects were chosen from among 21 proposals.
A fourth grant will support a meeting on multicellular self-organization.
In the first project, George Bennett and Mary Estes will test novel analogues of short carbohydrate molecules (specifically glycans) found in human secretions that are important inhibitors of gastrointestinal disease, the third most-common cause of death from infectious diseases worldwide. The researchers expect their work will benefit young children and the elderly, who are the most susceptible to diarrheal disease.
Rice University professors Behnaam Aazhang, Pedro Alvarez, George Bennett, Antonios Mikos, Krishna Palem and Richard Tapia have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and the publisher of the journal Science.
AAAS fellows are elected by their peers, and fewer than 1 percent of the association’s members are elected each year. Fellows are selected for their efforts to advance science or scientific applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.