Kristala Prather

Prather headshot_Aug2014_0.jpgTeaching Old Bacteria New Tricks

Kristala L. J. Prather
Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering
MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 | 5:30 p.m.

About the Lecture

Microbial systems offer the opportunity to produce a wide variety of chemical compounds in a sustainable fashion.  Economical production, however, requires processes that operate with high titer, productivity, and yield. One challenge towards maximizing yields is the need to use substrate for biomass, resulting in a competing pathway that cannot merely be eliminated.  Productivities may also be significantly influenced by the timing of expression of genes in the production pathway. Dynamic metabolic engineering has emerged as a means to address these and other impediments in strain performance. Ideally, the triggers for dynamic control would be autonomous, that is, independent of any external intervention by the operator.  We have developed such autonomous devices by utilizing both pathway-independent quorum-sensing circuits and pathway-dependent metabolite biosensors to control metabolic flux. In this talk, I will describe our approach for development of these Metabolite Valves and results to date from their implementation. 

About the Speaker

Kristala Jones Prather is the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. She received an S.B. degree from MIT in 1994 and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (1999), and worked 4 years in BioProcess Research and Development at the Merck Research Labs prior to joining the faculty of MIT.  Her research interests are centered on the design and assembly of recombinant microorganisms for the production of small molecules, with additional efforts in novel bioprocess design approaches. A particular focus is the elucidation of design principles for the production of unnatural organic compounds with engineered control of metabolic flux within the framework of the burgeoning field of synthetic biology.  Prather is the recipient of an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award (2005), a Technology Review “TR35” Young Innovator Award (2007), a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2010), the Biochemical Engineering Journal Young Investigator Award (2011), and the Charles Thom Award of the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (2017). Additional honors include selection as the Van Ness Lecturer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2012), as a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2014-2015), and as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS; 2018).  Prather has been recognized for excellence in teaching with the C. Michael Mohr Outstanding Faculty Award for Undergraduate Teaching in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering (2006, 2016), the MIT School of Engineering Junior Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching (2010), and through appointment as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow (2014), the highest honor given for undergraduate teaching at MIT.