October 16, 2023
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Mattheos Koffas, Ph.D., Dorothy and Fred Chau ʼ71 Constellation Professor in Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, has won the inaugural June Wispelwey Bio Leadership Fellowship. The fellowship provides a grant “to assist scientists and engineers in spearheading projects that may lead to important technical, business, or community advancements in the biological engineering field.”
Koffas, who is a member of Rensselaer’s Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph. D. Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies as well as the Center for Future Energy Systems, uses synthetic biology tools to improve cellular properties or design new metabolic circuits. His lab pioneered the animal-free production of animal sulfated glycosaminoglycans, such as chondroitin sulfate and spider silk proteins and elastins. Koffas’ lab was also the first to demonstrate the biosynthesis of numerous polyphenolic compounds, such as flavonoids, stilbenes, curcuminoids, and anthocyanins. Importantly, Koffas uses natural products to develop novel metabolic engineering techniques that include protein engineering of plant P450s and glycoproteins, dynamic regulation of metabolic pathways for improving production titers and yields, and the development of engineered co-cultures for division of labor among microbial species.
Koffas earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the National Technical University in Athens, Greece. Next, he joined the graduate program of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he worked on elucidating the central carbon metabolism of Corynebacterium glutamicum and improving amino acid biosynthesis in this bacterium. After completing his Ph.D., he served as a research scientist at DuPont’s Central Research and Development, where he worked on engineering the carotenoid biosynthesis of an obligate methanotroph. Next, Koffas joined the faculty of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at SUNY Buffalo. He joined Rensselaer in 2011 and was appointed Dorothy and Fred Chau ’71 Career Development Constellation Professor in Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering in 2015.
In his research career, Dr. Koffas has worked with a variety of microorganisms and natural products including amino acids, polyphenols, fatty acids, and terpenoids. He has published more than 160 peer-reviewed publications, more than 12 book chapters, and holds 10 patents. He is a member of the editorials boards of various journals in the area of bioengineering, editor in chief of Metabolic Engineering Communications, and editor for Biotechnology Advances. His research has been funded by federal agencies (NIH, ARPA-E, and NSF), the state of New York (NYStem), and industrial partners (Sheikagaku Corporation, Evonik, Firstwave Technologies, and Chromadex).
Coincidentally, June Wispelwey, for whom the award is named, is the parent of an RPI alumnus.