2020 09 Freddy Chen 陳育孝 3

Freddy Chen – IBC Student Profile

Freddy earned his PhD at UCLA and is a postdoctoral researcher at IBC in the lab of President James Liao. Their team engineered E. coli to grow solely on methanol, and the results were recently published in Cell. We chatted with Freddy to find out more about this work and what he likes to do outside of the lab.

Can you talk about why these results are so exciting?

We’re dealing with global warming. We wanted to convert methane, which is a greenhouse gas 21 times more harmful than CO2, into valuable products like methanol and bioproducts. Some bacteria can use methanol naturally, but there are downsides—they’re pretty fragile and not industry-friendly. So, we decided to use E. coli, which is industry-friendly, and we engineered it to grow on methanol. In the long run, we want the E. coli to produce small organic acid compounds and precursors to antibiotics from methanol. Academia Sinica just filed a patent application, and we want to base a start-up on this E. coli strain.

What’s your experience with moving back to Taiwan?

I came back to Taiwan from Los Angeles to help set up the Liao lab. The transition was tough, as I needed to understand my school’s regulations to wrap up everything in LA, including how to send my strains back legally, terminating housing contracts, etc. Once back in Taiwan, I was overwhelmed by another new set of regulations and lab design work. I will always remember being asked what color I wanted for the chairs, walls, and floors of our lab!

Do you have any secret talents?

Learning languages is one of my hobbies. I speak English, Mandarin, Japanese, French, and Italian, and I took Spanish and German for a year. Although I was a chemistry major, I was a TA for Italian classes in undergrad. And, I studied abroad in Kyoto, so I was learning chemistry in Japanese. It was tough!

I also enjoy playing music. I began playing in a concert band as a percussionist in elementary school, but switched to playing violin in junior high. I then restarted in high school, focused on playing the timpani, and joined an orchestra during my undergraduate studies. Currently, I am still playing in amateur bands occasionally in my free time. Music is my favourite way to unwind after a long day in lab!