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WPI Chemical Engineer Receives $2M Grant to Push the Boundaries of Genetic Engineering

July 29, 2020 / PRWeb

A Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) chemical engineer has received four separate grants totaling more than $2 million to support his research into using yeast and fungi to take on significant genetic engineering challenges. Through his research in synthetic biology, Eric Young, the Leonard P. Kinnicutt Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at WPI, aims to engineer organisms to make it easier to develop numerous products, like medicines, biofuels, and plastics, and increase security by developing a new method to detect hidden underground explosives.

“I am thrilled,” said Young, “These grants mean we can really push the boundaries of genetic design. They point to the promise of using yeast and fungi, already essential components of civilization, in new and creative ways to solve some of the toughest problems facing us today.”

Young recently received the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) prestigious CAREER award, which recognizes early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. The five-year $512,591 grant supports his research on using Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous, usually referred to as red yeast, as a new synthetic biology host, which is a base organism scientists begin the genetic engineering process with. Generally, only two organisms—baker’s yeast and E. coli—are used as hosts. That slows down or inhibits the creation of many products that are based on organic compounds that aren’t easily created by these two organisms.