Campus News Science & Technology

UGA’s newest eminent scholar to expand bioenergy research efforts

UGA's newest eminent scholar to expand bioenergy research efforts

Athens, Ga. – Harry Gilbert, who has worked extensively on carbohydrate enzymes, focusing primarily on how these biocatalysts contribute to plant cell wall degradation, has joined the University of Georgia’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center as the latest Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

Gilbert, who comes to UGA from the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences at Newcastle University, joins faculty in the CCRC who seek to unravel the secrets of cellulosic biomass, a basic component of green plants and a key to the mass production of biofuels. The group’s primary goal is to make lignocellulosic-based ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline, thereby reducing the nation’s gasoline consumption by some 20 percent in the decade ahead.

“The search committee chaired by Professor Michael Adams, of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, set a very high bar of recruiting the world’s best scientist working in this area,” said UGA Vice President for Research David Lee. “We are all delighted that they hit the mark. Professor Gilbert is a world-class scholar with diverse interests and a highly creative mind. He will add considerably to our bioenergy initiative.”

A native of England, Gilbert earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and a B.S. in physiology and biochemistry at the University of Southhampton. He worked in a research institute as a biochemist and a microbiologist before entering academia at Newcastle University in 1985. Since then he has conducted research and taught courses in genetics, biotechnology, transgenic animal technology, enzymology, carbohydrate biochemistry and biomedical sciences.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with this group of knowledgeable scientists,” said Gilbert. “My research looks specifically at the degradation of cell walls, and I look forward to developing synergistic interactions with colleagues who are working on other aspects of carbohydrate research.”

Gilbert has published a number of peer-reviewed research articles on the enzymology of plant cell wall degradation, and has held several patents on the use of xylanases in the paper industry. Xylanases are a class of enzymes that aid the breakdown of hemicellulose, a major component of the cell wall of plants.

“We are so pleased that UGA has hired Professor Gilbert as a GRA Eminent Scholar in Bioenergy,” said Alan Darvill, Regents Professor and director of UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. “He brings to Georgia a wealth of knowledge and expertise in understanding the deconstruction of biomass by microbial enzymes that could result in novel methods to produce biofuels.”