James Liao is a metabolic engineer and scientist recognized for his work on microbial conversion of renewable resources to advanced biofuels. He is particularly known for redesigning metabolism for carbon assimilation and synthesis of longer chain alcohols. Liao was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 1958 and grew up in Taipei. He graduated from National Taiwan University with a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering and from University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Ph.D. After graduation, he first worked at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY, as a research scientist. He started his academic career at Texas A&M in 1990 and moved to UCLA in 1997. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and The National Academy of Engineering. He is also an Academician of Academia Sinica, Taiwan.

Research Interests

James Liao's laboratory is working on the design and construction of non-native metabolic networks, particularly in microorganisms, but also in plants and higher animals. They have developed biosynthetic pathways for producing various alcohols with 3 to 8 carbons. The pathways are transferred to various microorganisms to convert lignocellulose, waste proteins, and atmospheric CO2 to fuels. To optimize the efficiency of conversion, they combined computational, genetic, and biochemical approaches to increase the driving force towards the desired flux. To increase the carbon efficiency, they redesigned the native carbon assimilation pathways for sugar and one-carbon compound assimilation. They developed a cyclic pathway involving phosphoketolase and carbon rearrangement to digest sugar phosphate to two-carbon metabolites in a non-oxidative manner without carbon loss. They combined this concept with native methanol assimilation to achieve a synthetic methanol condensation cycle that converts methanol to ethanol and n-butanol without carbon loss. They also reversed glyoxylate shunt to afford conversion of C4 metabolites to C2 metabolites, which is a critical step in artificial CO2 fixation.

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Primary Section

Section 61: Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 31: Engineering Sciences