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Engineers Week: A Multi-Scale Approach to Plant Specialized Metabolic Engineering

February 24, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

The Chemical Engineering department is hosting Susan Roberts as a speaker for this year’s Engineers Week events.

Location: This event is virtual, free, and open to the public.

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Susan Roberts
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A Multi-Scale Approach to Plant Specialized Metabolic Engineering

Professor Roberts’ research is focused on cellular engineering and design of bioprocesses using plant-based systems. Plants produce sophisticated small molecules that play key roles in defense against predators and environmental elements. These natural products are synthesized through specialized metabolic pathways, that have both shared and unique components when compared amongst plant systems. These specialized metabolites are useful in a variety of societal applications including as nutraceuticals, flavorings, colorings and pharmaceuticals. The supply of these compounds is often hindered due to low yields in nature and the inability to chemically synthesize at scale. She uses plant cell culture technology as both a system of study and a scalable production system due to the ability to engineer cells and the environment to optimize accumulation of products of interest. During this event she will present the story of understanding and optimizing paclitaxel production in Taxus plant cell suspension culture using a multi-pronged cellular engineering approach (intracellular, intercellular and extracellular scales). She will focus on recent approaches and results in considering global specialized metabolism, specialized metabolite transport and epigenetic mechanisms. Her group uses a combination of traditional bioprocess engineering techniques (e.g., bioreactor design, cell culture, cell encapsulation), modern molecular biology and analytical chemistry techniques (e.g., gene transfer, transcriptomics analyses, UPLC) and mathematical modeling (e.g., genome scale modeling, metabolic flux analyses). Her research has been funded largely through the NSF, NIH and industrial collaborations.

Dr. Susan Roberts is Professor and Head of Chemical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). She received her BS degree in Chemical Engineering from WPI in 1992, PhD in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 1998, served on the faculty at UMass Amherst Chemical Engineering for 17 years and joined WPI as Professor and Head in 2015. Dr. Roberts’ research interests are in biomanufacturing, cellular engineering and cell culture, with a primary focus on plant-based systems for synthesis of natural products. She has received a number of awards for her research and education work including the NSF ADVANCE Program, NIIMBL Workforce Development Award, UMass President’s Science and Technology Fund Award, NSF IGERT Award, NSF CAREER Award, and UMass Amherst College of Engineering Junior Faculty, Teaching and Advising awards. Her research is supported by the NSF, NIH and industry. She is passionate about faculty development, training interdisciplinary engineers, innovating graduate education and advocating for advancement of women and underrepresented groups in STEM fields. She is a proud mom to three children, Justin (17), Benjamin (14), and Emmelyn (10), and puppy Molly.

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National Engineers Week


February 24, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


Chemical Engineering


Chemical Engineering