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Hal Alper Recognized for Pioneering Work in Engineering Sustainable Materials and Chemicals

Hal Alper, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering's McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, is the recipient of the 2019 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Engineering from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST).

Alper’s research looks for sustainable ways to create new molecules that can be used for plastics, drugs and other products that typically require petroleum products as a feedstock. His work has the potential to significantly reduce pollution in the chemical industry by reducing and reusing waste. His innovative, paradigm-changing approach could lead to new drugs and sustainable plastics at an industrial scale.

“What he is developing and doing right now with his metabolic techniques isn’t just for drugs or bioplastics, there may be new chemicals that can be designed that way,” said Nicholas A. Peppas, professor of biomedical and chemical engineering and pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin. “He is the right person at the right time.”

Alper is the associate chair and Paul D. & Betty Robertson Meek Centennial Professor in Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on metabolic and cellular engineering in the context of biofuel, biochemical and biopharmaceutical production in an array of model host organisms. His impact in the field is highlighted by three major areas of accomplishment:

First, he has pioneered the field of "promoter engineering" and he has expanded greatly upon this paradigm in work that moves toward the rational design of synthetic part, especially with respect to fungal transcriptional control. The impact can be seen through significant laboratory and industrial interest in for acquiring these parts.

Second, he has been uniquely combining directed evolution with pathway engineering including creating a paradigm for "molecular transporter protein engineering." In particular, his work has established that cellular transporter preferences can be rewired for biotechnological goals.

Third, he has led efforts for groundbreaking contributions in the engineering of fungal hosts for the production of fuels and chemicals. His work demonstrates how large-scale engineering effort can be coupled with promoter and genetic tools to create unsurpassed chemical production levels from cells.

“The TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards highlight the groundbreaking research taking place in Texas,” said TAMEST President Gordon England. “The discoveries by these researchers are advancing science and improving lives. TAMEST is proud to celebrate Dr. Alper for his achievements.”