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  • President James C. Liao

    President James C. Liao             

    President James C. Liao            

    Website            
    Personal Webpage            

    Education            
    1987 Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, University of Wisconsin            
    1980 B.S., Chemical Engineering, National Taiwan University 

    Introduction 

    Dr. James C. Liao, President, Academia Sinica, is a pioneer in Metabolic Engineering, Synthetic Biology, and fSystems Biology. He received his BS degree from National Taiwan University and PhD from University of Wisconsin-Madison. After working as a research scientist at Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, NY, he started his academic career at Texas A&M University in 1990 and moved to UCLA in 1997. He received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (2010), the White House “Champion of Change” for innovations in renewable energy (2012), the ENI Renewable Energy Prize bestowed by the President of Italy in 2013, and the 2014 National Academy of Sciences Award for the Industrial Application of Science, the 2021 Samson Prime Minister’s prize for innovation in alternative energy and smart mobility for transportation, and the Gregory N. Stephanopoulos Award for Metabolic Engineering in 2023. He is a Member of the US National Academy of Engineering, US National Academy of Sciences, and Academician of Academia Sinica in Taiwan. In 2024, he has been elected as an "Associate Member" of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

     

    Experience  

    2016-date: President, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.            
    2015-2016: Chair, Bioengineering, UCLA.            
    2012-2016; Chair, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, UCLA.            
    2002-2012: Vice Chair, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, UCLA.            
    2007-2015: Associate Director for Energy Research, UCLA-DOE Institute for Genomics and Proteomics.            
    2013-2016: Professor (joint appointment), Department of Bioengineering, UCLA.            
    2011-2016: Professor (joint appointment), Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UCLA.            
    1997-2016: Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, UCLA.            
    1993-1997: Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University.            
    1990-1993: Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University.            
    1987-1990: Research Scientist, Life Science Research Laboratory, Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York.            
    1980-1982: Military Service, Taiwan.            

     

    Awards and Honors

    Awards:   
    2024 Associate Member, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)        
    2023 The Gregory N. Stephanopoulos Award for Metabolic Engineering        
    2021 The Samson-Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation in Alternative Energy and Smart Mobility for Transportation, Israel      
    2019 Novozymes Award for Excellence in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering      
    2015 Fellow, National Academy of Inventors      
    2015 Member of the US National Academy of Sciences      
    2014 Academician, Academia Sinica      
    2014 US National Academy of Sciences Award for the Industrial Application of Science      
    2013 ENI Award Renewable Energy Prize, Italy      
    2013 Member, National Academy of Engineering, USA      
    2012 White House Champion of Change for Innovations in Renewable Energy      
    2010 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, Academic Category      
    2009 James E. Bailey Award, Society for Biological Engineering      
    2009 Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research, American Institute of Chemical Engineers      
    2009 Marvin J. Johnson Award, Biochemical Technology Division, American Chemical Society      
    2008 Charles Thom Award, Society for Industrial Microbiology      
    2006 Merck Award in Metabolic Engineering      
    2006 Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Division Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers      
    2002 Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering      
    1992 National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award


    Named Lectureship:      
    2017 The Alan S. Michaels Distinguished Lectureship in Medical and Biological Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology      
    2016 Smith Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of California, Davis      
    2015 Covestro Lecture in Sustainability (Chemistry lecture), University of Minnesota      
    2015 Signature Seminar, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park      
    2015 Cockrell School Endowed Lecturer, University of Texas, Austin      
    2015 Distinguished McFerrin Lecturer, Texas A&M University      
    2014 Britton Chance Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania      
    2014 Tis Lahiri Lecturer, Vanderbilt University      
    2014 J.W.T. Spinks Lecturer, University of Saskatchewan, Canada      
    2013 Sunney Chan Lecturer, Academia Sinica      
    2013 Sunney I and Irene Y Chan Lecturer, Hong Kong Polytechnic University      
    2012 G.J. and S.T. Su Distinguished Lectureship, University of Rochester      
    2012 Julian C. Smith Lecturer, Cornell University      
    2011 Fredrickson Lecturer, University of Minnesota      
    2009 Ashland Lectureship, University of Kentucky      
    2009 Bollum Symposium Lecture, University of Minnesota      
    2007 Trotter Distinguished Lectureship, University of Tennessee      
    2006 Honorary Epistar Chair Professorship, National Tsing Hua University      
    2006 Lacey Lectureship, California Institute of Technology

    Significant Research

    Dr. Liao is a pioneer in Metabolic and Synthetic Biology, specializing in both the microbial synthesis of fuels and chemicals, and the redesign of primary metabolic network. He also invented Network Component Analysis (NCA) for analyzing transcription regulatory networks, and designed synthetic gene-metabolic regulatory circuits, which set the foundation for Metabolic and Synthetic Biology. Some of his notable contributions are summarized below:

    1) Biosynthesis of isobutanol and other higher alcohols
    Dr. Liao has devoted himself to metabolic systems analysis, re-design, and engineering. Using genetic and molecular biology techniques, he has achieved many innovative results. One involves producing isobutanol and other higher alcohols by re-engineering metabolic pathways of microorganisms, which set a new direction for biofuel research. Isobutanol, compared with ethanol, has a higher energy density and lower hygroscopicity, and is compatible with current infrastructure for energy utilization. Although isobutanol was identified as a minute fermentation product in some organisms, it was not deemed as a viable biofuel molecule because of the low productivity. Nevertheless, Dr. Liao successfully produced abundant isobutanol by re-routing the branched chain amino acid biosynthesis pathway, and shunting the intermediate in E. coli. His paper (Atsumi et al. Nature, 2008) altered the course of biofuel research, prompting the field to start working on higher alcohol fuels. This technology has been implemented on a large scale, and production has begun in the US to supply military aviation fuel tests. This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in the biofuel field in recent years.

    2) Bioconversion of CO2
    Dr. Liao is the first to directly covert CO2 to higher alcohols (Atsumi et al. Nature Biotechnol 2009), a breakthrough that stimulated research in direct photosynthetic production of fuels and chemicals. Furthermore, his paper (Li et al. Science 2012) demonstrated for the first time the use of electricity to drive microbial CO2 conversion to isobutanol. This strategy stores electrical energy in the chemical energy of liquid fuels, and is the first case of integrating man-made solar cells with microbial CO2 conversion. Because a solar cell has a much higher energy efficiency than the biological photosystems, this strategy can increase the overall energy conversion efficiency and provide an effective way to store intermittent electricity as liquid fuel.

    3) Re-design of primary metabolisms
    Evolution has made all living organisms share similar primary metabolic pathways. However, these “pathways to life” may not be optimal for synthetic purposes. For instance, all carbohydrates are metabolized through glycolysis, which partially oxidizes sugars. One third of carbon atoms are therefore lost as CO2 when carbohydrates are converted to biofuel. To solve this problem, Dr. Liao and his group designed a synthetic Non-Oxidative Glycolysis (NOG), which allows the total conservation of carbon when carbohydrates are converted to acetyl-CoA. The resulting substance can then be used to make a variety of chemicals and fuels. This work (Bogorad et al. Nature 2013) opened the door for re-designing the fundamental “pathways to life” to improve cell performance for artificial purposes.

    Along the same lines, Dr. Liao was able to transfer two bacterial genes in the glyoxylate shunt (which only exists in bacteria and plants) to the liver of mice to facilitate fat metabolism. This experiment was remarkable for demonstrating the great potential of metabolic engineering in biomedicine, which can be seen in the mice showing resistance to diet-induced obesity after the surgery (Dean et al. Cell Metabolism 2009).

    4) Systems biology and synthetic biology
    Using transcriptome data, Dr. Liao invented Network Component Analysis (Liao et al. PNAS 2003), a method that allows the determination of transcription factory activity. This method also complements the traditional Principal Component Analysis and Independent Component Analysis in studying transcriptome. In addition, Dr. Liao designed artificial gene-metabolic circuits to alter metabolic flux (Farmer and Liao, Nature Biotech, 2000), and achieved oscillation in the gene-metabolic network (Fung et al. Nature, 2005). These works laid a firm foundation for Metabolic Synthetic Biology.

    Dr. Liao’s achievements have been honored with numerous awards, including the US Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award of EPA and the White House Champion of Change in Renewable Energy. In 2013, he was elected as a Member of the US National Academy of Engineering, and received the ENI Renewable Energy Prize, bestowed by the President of Italy. In sum, Dr. Liao’s work has demonstrated a perfect integration between life sciences and engineering to address significant problems facing human society today.

    Interview

    Taiwan Panorama Magazine ,December, 2018

    Welcoming In the Public—The Academia Sinica at 90

    Looking to the future, President James C. Liao says, “I hope that scientists doing basic research will feel a sense of mission.” He adds, “First you must let your academic peers and colleagues know that your research has value, is forward-looking, and is creative. Second, you must be responsible to taxpayers, and take the initiative to explain the importance and significance of basic research. Third, you must have a sense of mission for humanity. I hope we can do in-depth research to solve problems facing all of mankind, such as global warming, climate change, and long-term care for the elderly.”


    Taipei Times 11, June, 2018

    Academia Sinica president plans for low-carbon future

    The concepts of carbon neutrality and a low-carbon society could help reduce air pollution and lower the nation’s carbon footprint, which requires transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, Academia Sinica President James Liao said in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporters Chien Hui-ju and Jennifer Huang

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