Which branch of biotechnology do you specialise in?
Young-Kyoung Park: The depletion of fossil fuels and providing food security for all are among the major concerns of our time. In this context, the search for renewable energy and alternatives to fossil fuels, without competing with food production, is becoming a priority. I am interested in bioproduction: the production of biological molecules by living systems. This type of sustainable and ecological production can be applied to various industrial processes (pharmaceuticals, food, cosmetics, chemicals, etc.).
After studying biotechnology in South Korea, at the National University of Seoul, I did my PhD in France, at INRAE, as part of the Integrative Biology of Microbial Lipid Metabolism (BIMlip) team, in the Systems and Synthesis Microbiology department of the Micalis Institute. Microbial lipids are seen as promising alternatives to fossil fuels, which are of increasing environmental and energy concern. Odd-chain fatty acids (OFAs), an unusual type of lipid, are compounds of interest with various biotechnological applications.
What new achievements does your research present?
YKP: My work focuses on microorganisms, and notably on the oleaginous yeast Yarrowia lipolytica: it redesigns and reconstructs the metabolic pathways of Yarrowia lipolytica, to enable it to produce specific fatty acids with multiple applications.
During my thesis, which I defended in 2020, I built new "cell factories" capable of producing large quantities of OFAs by engineering the lipid metabolism of the yeast Y. lipolytica. I am currently working at the Micalis Institute on the production of higher value-added biomolecules, in a multidisciplinary approach to the development of yeast via metabolic engineering for the production of microbial lipids as alternatives to fossil fuels.
What are your projects?
YKP: I have high-level scientific objectives, as well as societal ambitions in the fields of biotechnology and bioeconomy, by participating in two research projects. I want to continue developing odd-chain fatty acid-producing strains. I am involved in the YaliOL project (Yarrowia lipolytica oleochemicals based on odd-chain fatty acids). I am also involved in supervising the Val2O project for valorizing food and organic waste, towards an alternative pathway for composting or anaerobic digestion (Biogas), which consists of the anaerobic fermentation of food and organic waste for the production of volatile fatty acids (VFAs). These VFAs are transformed into biomolecules with higher added value by fermentation with the Y. lipolytica yeast.
How will the L'Oréal-UNESCO French Young Talents grant help you to pursue your research projects?
My ambition is to contribute to building a circular bio-economy for future generations.
YKP: This grant will enable me to strengthen my research network in order to develop microbial cell factories for producing unusual lipids and to test them in specific applications. It will also give me the opportunity to expand collaboration and implement approaches in the medical field as well as in that of biodegradable plastics, using renewable carbon sources.
The aim is to accelerate the industrialisation of microbial production of OFAs and higher added value biomolecules for biotechnology and the bioeconomy.
The L'Oréal-UNESCO Young Talents for Women in Science programme
Each year, the L'Oréal Foundation for Women in Science and its partners, the French Academy of Sciences and the French National Commission for UNESCO, support over 250 brilliant young women researchers through 54 regional and national programmes.
Women are still too few and far between in scientific research: today they represent only 33% of researchers worldwide, and 28% in France. In Europe, 86% of senior academic positions in science are held by men. And less than 4% of Nobel prizes in science have been awarded to women.
This year, for the 2021 French Young Talents Award, 21 women doctoral candidates and 14 women post-doctoral candidates were selected in France from among 740 applications, by a prestigious jury made up of 28 researchers from the French Academy of Sciences.
These promising scientists have received an endowment (€15,000 for doctoral candidates, €20,000 for post-doctoral candidates), which will help them to pursue their research work. They have also received leadership training.