Biochemical Engineer


I’m a firm believer in being able to choose your direction in life. Find something you love and go after it. My name is Ashty and my direction is toward discovering the unknown.

In my professional life I discover new knowledge by researching to find innovative solutions in energy and medicine. I am using synthetic biology to develop tools to better engineer biological systems to produce small molecule chemicals. I love to manage research projects, share my findings with the world, and teach students a thing or two about engineering the world around them.

  • Education
    PhD Candidate
  • Job
  • Hobbies
    Comics, Cooking, Board Games
  • Website

Whether you’re here to learn more about me or explore my research, I welcome you to discover something new!


Scientific Research

I have been effectively conducting research in a variety of laboratory settings using both experimental and computational techniques since 2011.


Through research experiences, coursework, and online learning communities I have become proficient in HTML/CSS, Matlab, and Python.

Science Outreach

Teaching my communities about science is essential. I prioritize developing my scientific communication skills because sharing new findings is as enjoyable as discovering them.

Sequential Art

Over the last decade I have developed skills in drawing comics. My hope is to use these skills as means toward strengthen scientific communication and outreach.


Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering

Northwestern University

Anticipated 2018

B.S. in Chemical Engineering

The University of Texas at Austin

B.S. in Biology, Cell & Molecular

The University of Texas at Austin


Selected Awards & Honors

  • Distinguished Graduate Researcher Award, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, 2017
  • U.S. Delegate to the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting dedicated to Chemistry, Lindau, Germany, 2017
  • Honorable Mention Poster Award, Engineering Biology Research Consortium (EBRC) Spring Retreat, Northwestern University, 2017
  • 2nd Prize Poster Award, Synthetic Biology: Engineering, Evolution, & Design (SEED) Conference, Chicago, IL, 2016
  • EURAXESS LINKS North America Science Slam Finalist, Video: (, 2015
  • Mentor of the Year, Mentorship Opportunities for Research Engagement (MORE), Northwestern University, 2014-2015
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2013-2018
  • Phi Beta Kappa, 2013
  • George H. Mitchell Student Award for Academic Excellence, The University of Texas at
    Austin (6 graduates selected), 2013
  • Student Leadership Award, Cockrell School of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin UT-Austin (8 selected), 2013
  • Terry Foundation Scholarship, The University of Texas at Austin (Full-ride), 2008-2013


Jewett Lab

Northwestern University

2013 – present

The promise of making fuels and medicines from microorganisms has nearly fallen flat because of lengthy design-build-test (DBT) cycles. To combat this problem, I built and developed a novel cell-free framework utilizing in vitro protein synthesis for enzymatic pathway prototyping and discovery. The foundational principle is that we can construct discrete enzymatic pathways through modular assembly of cell lysates containing enzymes produced by cell-free protein synthesis rather than by living organisms. This provides an unprecedented capability to test hundreds of thousands of pathways by avoiding inherent limitations of cell growth and thus diminishing the reliance on single-enzyme kinetic data. A key conceptual innovation is that the DBT unit can be cellular lysates rather than genetic constructs, allowing us to perform DBT iterations without the need to re-engineer organisms.

Alper Lab

The University of Texas at Austin

2011 – 2013

Brewer’s yeast is one of society’s favorite workhouse microorganisms because of it’s ability to make ethanol, but this yeast has the power to make many other useful molecules. I worked to create ‘designer’ promoters (DNA elements) to enhance control of metabolism in yeast for the optimization of chemical production. I helped engineer the first muconic acid-producing (precursor to nylon) yeast. One of my first independent projects included the characterization of plasmid (DNA) burden and copy number in yeast for improved metabolic engineering. This is the experience that catalyzed my pursuit to discover and create.

Wittrup Lab

Massechusetts Institute of Technology


Approximately 38.5 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime. My research at MIT involved using experimental and computational techniques to observe single cancer cells and which cytokines (chemicals) they secrete. Additionally, I investigated if when cancer cells come together they secrete a different profile of cytokines using single-cell and multiple-cell analysis. The hopes of this research is to better understand how cancers spread and how to treat them.

Linninger Lab

University of Illinois Chicago


The cerebral spinal canal is one channel that connects our brains to our bodies. This channel is filled with a pulsating fluid that can exchange molecules between our nerves. After medical procedures of the spine often patients are left with chronic pain. My work involved exploring the mechanism of pain reduction by using genetic therapies delivered through the spinal canal. I created a computer-aided method to systematically engineer siRNA therapies to the central nervous system through intrathecal delivery. By modeling mass-action kinetics of therapy delivery, scientists can better design and deliver therapies to patients in a personalized manner.

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The over-arching goal of my thesis research is to develop powerful, enabling technologies to rationally and rapidly manipulate biological systems to produce chemicals.

For decades, scientists and engineers have turned to biological systems to help meet societal needs in energy, medicine, materials, and more—especially when chemical synthesis is untenable (e.g., antimalarial drugs). Often, biologically-produced small molecules are insufficient for production at the optimal titer, rate, or yield because natural sources are difficult to optimize and are simply not scalable (e.g., plants grow slowly). Thus, engineers seek to design enzymatic reaction schemes in model microorganisms to meet manufacturing criteria. Success in these endeavors depends upon identifying sets of enzymes that can convert readily available molecules (e.g., glucose) to high-value products (e.g., medicines), with each enzyme performing one of a series of chemical modifications.

Unfortunately, this is difficult because design-build-test (DBT) cycles—iterations of re-engineering organisms to test new sets of enzymes—are detrimentally slow due to the constraints of cell growth. As a result, a typical project today might only explore dozens of variants of an enzymatic reaction pathway. This is often insufficient to identify a commercially relevant solution because selecting productive enzymes using existing single-enzyme kinetic data has limited applicability in multi-enzyme pathways and consequently requires more DBT iterations. With nearly half of approved small molecule drugs being derived from natural products and nearly all chemicals being produced from petroleum, it is essential that we speed up the biochemical discovery process.

My research seeks to address these problems by re-conceptualizing the way we engineer and unearth enzymatic pathways using cell-free systems.



If you want to reach out to talk about the work that I do, feel free to contact me by email or the form below!

  • ashtykarim AT gmail DOT com

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