Karen A. McDonald | AIChE

Karen A. McDonald

University of California, Davis

Dr. McDonald is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of California at Davis.  She is currently the UC Davis PI and Division Lead for the Food and Pharmaceutical Synthesis Division of a multi-university NASA-funded Space Technology Research Institute called the Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES), which supports biomanufacturing for Mars exploration.   She is also a co-PI on an NSF-funded Growing Convergence Center developing enabling technologies for cultivated meat. From 2013-2018 she served as the Faculty Director for the UC Davis ADVANCE Institutional Transformation program, an NSF-funded program to improve the recruitment, retention and advancement of women STEM faculty.  Prior to that she was the PI and Director of the NSF CREATE-IGERT program, an interdisciplinary graduate training program in partnership with Tuskegee University to train students in plant biotechnology with applications to biopharmaceuticals, biorefineries and sustainable agriculture.  She served for 13 years from 2001-2013 as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Engineering. 

Professor McDonald’s research is aimed at the development of efficient, environmentally-friendly, cost-effective, and globally-deployable biomanufacturing approaches for the production of recombinant proteins using plant-based production systems. Her team’s research integrates synthetic biology in plants with bioprocess engineering, including the development of novel plant viral expression systems, and upstream and downstream technologies to produce recombinant proteins using whole plants, harvested plant tissues, and plant cells grown in bioreactors. Over the past 36+ years at UC Davis her research group has generated over 100 journal articles/book chapters and six issued patents in the area of plant-based expression of recombinant proteins, with practical applications in human therapeutics, industrial enzymes, and biodefense countermeasures.   Professor McDonald currently teaches undergraduate courses in Biotechnology Facility Design and Regulatory Compliance and Biochemical Engineering Capstone Design as well as the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology graduate training program. She led the formation of a new ABET-accredited major in Biochemical Engineering, which was established at UC Davis in 1994. 

Professor McDonald received her B.S. from Stanford University, her M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park, all in Chemical Engineering.  She serves as Associate Editor for the Plant Biotechnology Specialty Section of Frontiers in Plant Science and also on the Leadership Council of BioMADE, one of the Manufacturing USA institutes.  She is a cofounder of Inserogen, Inc., a biotechnology startup focused on pre-clinical research and process development for plant-made production of orphan therapeutics.  She is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.