PhD in Chemical Engineering
Current position: Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, United States of America
Research focus: metabolic engineering of microorganisms for renewable chemical production, biochemical engineering education
Irene works with the microbe Escherichia coli to help facilitate solutions based on biotechnology for glucaric acid production from glucose. Her findings and developments will be beneficial in the fields of biofuels, global food production, and environmental improvement.
Recently, Irene has been more involved in undergraduate education. She was part of an interdisciplinary team which developed a new course at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology called Global Engineering and the Social Context. In this course, students consider the practice of engineering in a global context and consider the implication of their design choices with respect to local environment, culture, and stakeholder needs. The course includes an on-campus component and a design experience abroad. Parts of the course were conducted in Germany with partners at Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg and Hochschule Esslingen.
2011-2014 National Institute of Health Biotechnology Traineeship
CV as submitted for the Green Talents award 2014:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States of America
Research focus: developing an Escherichia coli strain to improve yields of glucaric acid
With the need for renewable energy sources and the current prices of petroleum on the rise, Irene Brockman has taken on the challenge of developing strategies to engineer microorganisms for renewable chemical production, in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The employment of glucaric acid – a biopolymer building block currently derived from oxidizing a sugar with a nitric acid – is beneficial, as it can be produced from biomass and can decrease the use of chemical products derived from petroleum. For the past four years, Irene has been working with the microbe Escherichia coli, commonly referred to as E.coli, in order to help facilitate a solution based on biotechnology for glucaric acid production from glucose in the industrial sector. Building on a pathway for producing glucaric acid from glucose previously developed by a former student of the MIT lab, Irene has further been able to control the degradation of the E.coli enzyme phosphofructokinase – a key enzyme for improving yields of glucaric acid. Her newly developed E.coli strain has tested well with higher production of myo-inositol, a precursor of glucaric acid. The higher the yield of this compound, the more likely it is to limit the production of carbon emissions.
As Irene says, “I have focused on bringing tools that were developed for fundamental biological research and applying them to a system that is relevant for sustainable chemical production.” She believes that her findings and developments will be beneficial in the fields of biofuels, global food production and environmental improvement. The young researcher is looking forward to continuing her biological research on sustainable chemical production with international collaborations formed at the Green Talents Forum.
The jury was impressed by Irene’s ability to link chemical production alternatives with sustainability initiatives in order to create efficient alternatives for the industrial sector. Her developments have the potential to provide a future framework for environmentally conscious biotechnology production.