The Department of Chemical Engineering welcomed Dr. Zuyi (Jacky) Huang as its newest full-time faculty member this fall. Dr. Huang applies a systems engineering and process controls approach to investigating biosystems. His teaching focus includes undergraduate courses on materials science and process control, as well as graduate level courses on advanced process modeling and systems biology. He is also working to establish a Systems Biology Simulations Laboratory.
“I’m excited to join the College of Engineering because the students are of such high caliber,” says Dr. Huang. “I’m also looking forward to exploring opportunities for faculty collaboration to enhance research opportunities.”
Dr. Huang’s research centers on models of biological reaction networks in the field of Systems Biology. He has developed mathematical modeling and system analysis techniques to study biological reaction networks (characterized by hundreds of highly interactive genes, enzymes, and metabolites) to predict how cells respond to extracellular stimuli. The models can also be used to identify essential genes and enzymes, investigate pathway interactions, and integrate “omics” data (e.g., genomics or proteomics data).
Dr. Huang is currently seeking funding for two research initiatives in which his mathematical model takes center stage. First, he is studying metabolism specific to biofilm formation of pathogens that cause severe nosocomial infections acquired by hospitalized patients. These infections can cause severe pneumonia or complications of the urinary tract, bloodstream, and other parts of the body. The biofilm can enhance the drug resistance of pathogens and allow them to survive and flourish in hostile environments. Dr. Huang hopes to explore how individual pathogens collect into the more harmful biofilm and use his mathematical model to predict and prevent that transition. He will also use the model to identify drug targets that can manipulate biofilm formation.
His second research focus involves engineering microorganisms for producing advanced biofuels. Higher alcohols, such as isobutanol, offer higher energy density, lower hygroscopicity, and stronger potential as gasoline substitutes than other alternatives, such as ethanol. To date, no microorganisms that produce higher alcohols from glucose economically have been identified. Dr. Huang plans to use his mathematical model to identify nonnative pathways that can be activated in the host microorganism to boost isobutanol output.
Before joining Villanova, Dr. Huang served as a research scientist at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and as a research assistant in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He received his bachelor and master of science degrees in thermal engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and earned his PhD in chemical engineering at Texas A&M.