Conway Wins Poster Award for Work on Carbon Traffic in Yeast

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular engineering senior Matthew Conway received the first place in the Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering category of undergraduate student poster competition at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' (AIChE) annual meeting, held in Minneapolis, Mn. October 16-21. Conway's entry was one of 18 selected from a field 250 to receive top honors in their respective categories.

The poster, titled "Does Genome-Scale Flux Balance Analysis Predict Metabolic Fluxes in Yeast As Accurately As Isotope-Assisted Metabolic Flux Analysis?" highlights results Conway obtained while working in Assistant Professor Ganesh Sriram's Metabolic Engineering Laboratory. The work compares two ways of explaining the "map" of carbon traffic in engineered yeast cells: flux balance analysis, which uses a virtual, database-driven model of the cell's metabolism to simulate specific activities; and isotope assisted-metabolic flux analysis, in which labeled proteins ("tagged" with a carbon isotope) are tracked through living yeast cells to obtain flux information from the cell's metabolic activity.

The goal of the research, Conway says, is to use the data to suggest ways of further engineering the cells to advance their use as "cell factories" for producing useful products.

"Yeast cells are used industrially to produce products including recombinant proteins and ethanol for biofuels," he explains. "In our case, a series of enzymes are introduced [to the yeast] from another organism which form a pathway it uses to produce a small molecule compound that could be a commodity chemical or a drug. We're doing this to increase production of a precursor of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin."

In addition to Sriram, Conway's co-authors on the poster are postdoctoral research associate Ashish Misra and systems engineering program graduate student Joseph Johnnie (Institute for Systems Research).

Conway's research is supported by an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the project as a whole is funded by a Maryland Industrial Partnerships grant awarded to Sriram in collaboration with Fyodor Biotechnologies Corporation, a Baltimore, Md.-based company specializing in the development and manufacture of diagnostic and pharmaceutical products targeted toward the needs of emerging markets in Asia, Africa and South America.

Two other undergraduate members of the Sriram Group, ChBE seniors Whitney Hollinshead and Maggie Simons, also presented posters of their work at the conference.

Published November 3, 2011