Cutting Edge Technolgy- Dr. Rebekah Waikel Researches Algae Genes involved in Lipid Production
Dr. Rebekah Waikel is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eastern Kentucky University as well as a CRAFT research team member specializing in molecular genetics. Dr. Waikel’s primary role in CRAFT’s Cellulosic Derived Biofuels Initiative is the identification and manipulation of algae genes involved in lipid production with the goal of optimizing biofuel production.
“I sought out involvement with CRAFT because the mission of the program seeks to understand a very important and exciting topic in both science and society: energy sustainability. The interdisciplinary nature and connections to the corporate community within the CRAFT program provides my students excellent and more true to life career experience than typical research in a university laboratory”, says Waikel.
CRAFT’s Cellulosic Derived Biofuels Initiative utilizes the lipids (oils) from algae which consume sugars extracted from biomass such as switchgrass or corn stover to develop biodiesel and ultimately JP-8 jet fuel. Dr. Waikel’s research aims to detect the genes that are involved in algal lipid production and to develop a rapid detection assay that can be used to detect lipid production in cells of different algal species. These assays will be used to determine the optimal environmental condition to grow algae to maximize lipid production. Once the algae produces lipids, called TAGs, the lipids must be chemically converted to a usable form such as biodiesel.
“By being able to identify genes that regulate oil production in algae, we would have the capability to increase the amount and types of oil produced by these microorganisms. Dr. Waikel is conducting cutting edge research in this field using advance technologies and processes”, says Dr. Bruce Pratt, EKU CRAFT Director.
Dr. Waikel received her BS in Biology in 1995 from Indiana University and her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Baylor College of Medicine in 2000. She is broadly trained in the field of molecular genetics using genetic engineering approaches in mice to address biomedical questions. As a PhD. Student at Baylor, Dr. Waikel investigated the role of c-Myc in cancer and stem cell biology utilizing transgenic mouse models, culminating in a Nature Genetics publication. During her postdoctoral fellowship at Emory University, she studied the role of chemokine receptors in skin and gut immunology, using knock out mouse models, for which she was awarded an individual NIH NRSA.
“CRAFT allows me to interact with faculty from other departments and build collaborations on both CRAFT related and non-related projects. The collaborations that I have built with other CRAFT faculty have initiated several grant funding and program ideas that will ultimately benefit EKU students,” says Waikel.
Amber C. Overbay
Published on October 04, 2011