Evening Lectures - Pensacola

Karen Wooley

THE TALK: From commercial translation of carbohydrate-derived degradable plastics to harvesting of building blocks from insect feedstocks

February 2, 2023


A primary interest in the Wooley laboratory is the production of functional polymers from renewable sources that are capable of reverting to those natural products once their purpose has been served. Academically, we’ve made significant fundamental advances involving the development of synthetic methodologies that allow for the transformation of a broad range of natural products into next-generation sustainable, degradable polymers. Through partnership with Teysha Technologies, Ltd, advances are also being made toward commercial translation of carbohydrate-derived degradable plastics that are expected to become of great environmental benefit and societal impact. As scaled-up production of biomass-based biodegradable polymers continues to grow, we’ve recognized a need to avoid competition with resources that are important to food, fuel, construction and other societal demands. Therefore, we’re turning to unique supply chains, including harvesting of naturally-derived building blocks from black soldier flies, a rapidly growing feed crop industry.


Karen Wooley holds the W. T. Doherty-Welch Chair in Chemistry and is a University Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University. She studied at Oregon State University (B.S., 1988) and Cornell University (Ph.D., 1993). The first sixteen years of her independent academic career were spent at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and she then relocated to Texas A&M University in July 2009. In addition to her academic positions, she is the co-founder and President of Sugar Plastics, LLC, and Chief Technology Officer of Teysha Technologies, LTD. Research interests include the synthesis and characterization of degradable polymers derived from natural products, unique macromolecular architectures, complex polymer assemblies, and well-defined nanostructured materials. She has designed synthetic strategies to harness the rich compositional, regiochemical and stereochemical complexity of natural products for the construction of hydrolytically-degradable polymers, which have impact toward sustainability, reduction of reliance on petrochemicals, and production of biologically-beneficial and environmentally-benign natural products upon degradation – these materials are expected to impact the global issue of plastic pollution and address challenges resulting from climate change. Recent awards include election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2015), National Academy of Inventors (2019), American Association for the Advancement of Science (2020), American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2020), and National Academy of Sciences (2020); she was also named as the 2021 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Professor of the Year.