Kao honored with NSF CAREER Award

Photo of Dr. Katy KaoDr. Katy Kao, assistant professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

As a recipient of the prestigious award, Kao will receive $511,609 throughout the next five years for her research, which will examine the evolutionary processes associated with how microbes adapt to their environments.

This will be accomplished, Kao notes, via the development of the Visualizing Evolution in Real-Time (VERT) method, which uses genetically identical but differently colored cells to identify when adaptive evolution has occurred in laboratory cultures. VERT will be used to engineer Escherichia coli for enhanced tolerance to a biofuel (1-butanol), and genomic tools will be used to determine the underlying evolutionary processes and molecular mechanisms involved, Kao explains.

Kao completed her undergraduate career at the University of California, Irvine, and earned her Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, before joining Texas A&M's chemical engineering department in 2008.

At Texas A&M, Kao's research focuses on genomics, systems biology and biotechnology. Her laboratory is interested in using genomic and system biological tools to study microbial adaptation in various environments.

Specifically, Kao is focusing on evolving microorganisms such as yeast and E. coli for enhanced tolerance to the toxicity of desired bioproducts such as biofuels. She also is utilizing ultra-high throughput sequencing technology along with related tools to study the transcriptome and the metabolism in an effort to identify the cellular components responsible for the selected traits.

The CAREER Award was established to support junior faculty within the context of their overall career development, combining in a single program the support of research and education of the highest quality and in the broadest sense. Through this program, the NSF emphasizes the importance on the early development of academic careers dedicated to stimulating the discovery process in which the excitement of research is enhanced by inspired teaching and enthusiastic learning.