In a month when KAIST made headlines for topping Reuter’s “Asia’s Most Innovative University” list, Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee became Asia’s first to receive the Bailey Award. Named after its namesake Professor James E. Bailey, who made pioneering contributions to the field of bioengineering, the award recognizes individuals who have made field-advancing contributions to biotechnology.
Professor Lee has largely focused his research on metabolic engineering during his two decades at KAIST. In 2013, he became the world’s first to produce microbial gasoline by engineering the metabolism of E.coli, a bacteria commonly found in human intestines. He later went on to achieve highly efficient production of butanol (an advanced type of biofuel) through biorefining the metabolic process of similar microorganisms, eventually opening up a field of study now known as systems metabolic engineering.
This branch of bioengineering pioneered by Professor Lee, which involves the manipulation of the metabolic processes of microorganisms to produce various chemicals, biofuels, and polymers in an environmentally friendly manner, was recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the top ten emerging technologies in 2016. Systems biology has been attracting increasing interest as it could potentially allow for a sustainable means of production of the aforementioned chemicals, especially in light of rising concerns of environmental issues such as climate change.
Naturally, Professor Lee has received numerous accolades over the years. In 2012, he won the Marvin Johnson award presented by the American Chemical Society (ACS). He was also Asia’s first to win some of the field’s most prestigious awards such as the Elmer Gaden Award, the Amgen Biochemical Engineering Award, and the International Metabolic Engineering Award.
KAIST President Sung-Mo Kang remarked, “Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee has won numerous accolades in an area of research that has otherwise been led by the United States and Europe. As fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Academy of Microbiology, the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and the World Academy of Sciences, Professor Lee remains one of the world’s most recognized bioengineers.”