E.D. Butcher Professor of Bioengineering
Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Postdoctoral Fellow, Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology (1984)
Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology (1984)
M.S., Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology (1981)
B.S., Summa Cum Laude, Chemical Engineering, Rice University (1978)
Ka-Yiu San applies various chemical and bioengineering processes to discover how biological systems, such as E. coli, can be manipulated and used as catalysts to create useful products.
For more than 20 years, San has worked with collaborators at Rice, Iowa State University, and the University of Minnesota to pursue research activities that investigate systems in biochemical and metabolic engineering, biosystems engineering, biochemistry, and molecular biology to leverage resources, speed performance, reduce costs and environmental hazards, and improve yield with fewer by-products. San’s research has led to five issued patents and a number of them are pending. He is also working with a company to license succinate production technology from a renewable source, glucose.
Recently, San played a part in the creation of the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) at Iowa State University, which is funded by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation to develop technologies that can transform the petroleum-based chemical industry into one based on plants and other biorenewables. He and collaborators at Rice will lead the center’s research in microbial metabolic engineering.
San is an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (1999) and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014). He is a recipient of the Rice Alumni Association’s Hershel M. Rich Invention Award (2004 and 2005) and the Hamill Innovation Award from the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (2005 and 2013).
San’s Metabolic Engineering and Systems Biotechnology Laboratory has exploited several different molecular biology techniques to improve cellular properties and study the relation between cellular function and genotype. Characterization of genetically engineered strains is then performed with the use of bioreactors and analytical techniques such as HPLC are used to measure the metabolites produced. One of the most novel metabolic engineering tools developed in his lab, cofactor manipulations, has been used to investigate the importance of maintaining a proper balance of the biosynthetic transformations involving oxidation-reduction reactions in the cell. There are infinite applications of metabolic engineering in the medical and the industrial fields. Currently his group is investigating the following topics: