Hal Alper

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The University of Texas at Austin
Alper, Hal

Dr. Hal Alper is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.  His research focuses on metabolic and cellular engineering in the context of biofuel, biochemical, and biopharmaceutical production in an array of model host organisms.  In the context of this work, Dr. Alper focuses on applying and extending the approaches of related fields such as synthetic biology, systems biology, and protein engineering. 

Dr. Alper has published over 40 articles and has over 2100 citations with an h-index of 18.  Dr. Alper is the recipient of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award in 2008, the Texas Exes Teaching Award in 2009, the DuPont Young Investigator Award in 2010, the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award in 2011, the UT Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2012 and the 2013 Biotechnology and Bioengineering Daniel I.C. Wang Award.

Tue July 9 | 2:00 - 4:00
ABSTRACT: Synthetic control of transcription: from hybrid promoters to promoter engineering to synthetic operon design

Synthetic biology provides the means of designing novel parts to aid in the controlled, tunable, and regulated expression of individual genes, circuits, and pathways.  Here, we describe recent advances in synthetic control of transcription by hybrid promoters in both Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the nonconventional yeast, Yarrowia lipolytica.  These synthetic promoters are comprised of two modular components—the enhancer element and the core promoter element.  We demonstrate that upstream activating sequences can serve as “synthetic transcriptional amplifiers” that can be used either individually or in tandem to tune and regulate gene expression.  By utilizing such an approach, we can create libraries with ranges of over 400 fold in mRNA level, create the strongest known constitutive promoters, and synthetically impart strength and regulation traits to promoter elements.  Second, we will discuss the synthetic design of expression cassettes and operons.  Importantly, we measure and model the impact of 5’ UTR regions on translational control to design synthetic cassettes that have sustained, high-level expression regardless of cloning strategy.  Finally, we discuss the impact of genetic context for synthetic parts—a particularly important aspect for characterization and predicable function.  By synthetically altering upstream regions, terminator components, and promoter structure, defined and reproducible function can be obtained.  Collectively, these results demonstrate novel approaches to synthetically alter and control gene transcription—a central goal of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology efforts.  Thus, we conclude with specific applications of these tools for metabolic pathway engineering.