Alane Wentz

Ph.D. 2007

Research Project

Protein therapeutics, or biopharmaceuticals, are gaining popularity as potential treatments for a wide variety of diseases. Unfortunately, due to their typically complex structure and presence of vital post-translational modifications, proteins are difficult to produce and often require a cellular host for efficient folding and activity. The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae serves as an attractive host for protein production, yet low yields of heterologous proteins are common. Previous research shows that genetic modifications to S. cerevisiae result in higher heterologous protein secretion, but these studies do not provide solutions applicable to any protein product of interest. My goal is thus to develop and use a genome-wide approach to find target genes that will be incorporated in an engineered yeast cell to increase secretion of a desired protein product.

Previous Education

B.S. in Chemical Engineering
University of Texas, Austin, TX



Previous Research Experience

University of Texas at Austin
Chemical Engineering Department
Undergraduate Research Advisor: Christine Schmidt
Nanoparticle Adhesion to Nerve Cells - This research project analyzed the binding of quantum dot particles to neuroblastoma cells. Quantum dots were prepared in the laboratory and incubated with nerve cells. Analysis via fluorescence microscopy showed the presence or absence of quantum dots bound to nerve cells. Ultimately, the quantum dots would be excited, thus emitting a small electric field. Previous research shows that nerve cell growth is stimulated in the presence of an electric field. Thus the quantum dots could serve as the source for the electric field and aid in nerve cell regeneration present in a variety of central nervous system ailments.

Undergraduate Research Advisor: William Koros
Membrane Casting Solution Characterization - Gas separation at the molecular level (e.g., in the purification of natural gas) can be accomplished via asymmetric hollow-fiber polymer membranes. However, the properties (e.g., porosity and structural strength) of the membrane depend heavily on the properties of the polymer solution used to cast the membrane. This research project analyzed the thermodynamic properties of the polymer solutions that are vital in the creation of these hollow-fiber membranes.

Previous Industry Experience

The Dow Chemical Company
Market Development, Texas Operations
Engineering Summer Intern (DOJA) in 2001


  1. Wentz AE, Shusta EV. A novel high-throughput screen reveals yeast genes that increase secretion of heterologous proteins. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007;73:1189-1198. [Abstract]


Why did you choose UW-Madison?

I chose UW for a variety of reasons that were important to me--they may not be applicable to everyone. In terms of academics, the department is highly ranked in Chemical Engineering graduate programs and highly supports biological research. The University is also home to many reputable departments in my area of research which provide opportunities for collaboration. I also found Madison attractive as a's not too large to have the problems associated with big cities (e.g., high crime rates, traffic), yet it still has the amenities I was looking for (active night life, variety of restaurants). I feel safe here, which was important for me since I'm fairly independent and on occasion find myself walking alone at night. Also, I came from a large public university, and I was looking for something similar for graduate school since I love going to sporting events (especially football games). And yes, it gets cold here, but I didn't intend to spend the rest of my life in Madison, so I figured 4-5 years of cold weather wasn't going to kill me.

Things to do in and around Madison

Summers here are amazing! The weather is perfect and with the campus situated right on one of the lakes in Madison (Lake Mendota), I spend a lot of time out on the Memorial Union Terrace catching live music, having a drink, and hanging out with friends. But winter is fun as well. There are events like Kites on Ice, and coming from the South, I thought it was amazing to ice skate outside on a frozen pond. And the changing colors of the leaves in the fall is absolutely beautiful! If you're into sports, the University has hockey, football, and basketball teams that are entertaining. Madison has a minor league baseball team (Mallards). And of course there are pro teams nearby (Bucks, Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Packers, Twins, Vikings). You can also learn to sail and/or windsurf on Lake Mendota through one of the student organizations. If you're more of an outdoors person, there are a ton of state and national parks in Wisconsin that are awesome for camping and hiking in the summer and cross country skiing in winter. If you get bored in Madison, Milwaukee is an hour away, Chicago is a little over 2 hours, and Minneapolis is 4 hours away. I spend a lot of time in all of these places since I'm a live music fan and love to catch concerts that pass through the area. Wisconsin Dells is about an hour away and is a big tourist attraction. There are waterparks (some are indoors and open year-round) and resorts there, as well as a gambling casino. The best ways of getting around in Madison Bike trails in this city are incredible. The city bus system is also awesome. I live about 7 miles from campus and bus in a lot, and I can't complain. Parking around campus is difficult and expensive, but you eventually learn a few tricks. The airport is small, but I've never had problems flying in or out of Madison. I typically avoid O'Hare though.

Housing Ideas

I actually decided to buy when I moved here. Luckily I knew a realtor here, so she helped me considerably, and my parents were incredibly generous (mostly because I had enough scholarship money to pay my own way through undergrad) and helped me with the down payment. A lot of grad students live near campus their first year, but many move out west where the housing is a lot nicer for a lot less money.

Advice for the first year of graduate school

Deciding where to spend 4-5 years of your life that could end up defining your career isn't easy. Each person has their own priorities, and I always remind prospective students that the things that shaped my decision to come to Madison may not be the same things they deem important for their lives. I wanted to attend a reputable university, just like most of us, but I also wanted to have a life outside of grad school. I wanted to be happy wherever I ended up, and I didn't want to spend all of my time worrying and stressing out about my research project. I found Madison to be a good fit because there were many professors I was interested in (not just one), the city has many events and activities to choose from, and I didn't get a sense of intense competition here. In fact, many of the groups in the department work closely together, which isn't something you find everywhere. Don't forget to check on things like health care insurance, parking, cost of living, and figure out if your stipend will allow you to live comfortably. But most prospective students are focused on the academics, so I'll say that first year is rough, but it will be at any top-ranked program. Visit any school you are interested in, and talk to as many people as possible and ask as many questions as possible. Make sure there are multiple professors you could potentially work with because there are some years that professors will not take on any new students. Talk to the grad students and see how they really feel about their decision. Make sure you can see yourself fitting in with these students and being comfortable living in the city or town. I figure if you're unhappy outside of the coursework, you're less likely to want to stick it out during the rough times. Don't let it scare you, but be prepared for a humbling experience in your first year. You probably were one of the smartest students in your class in undergrad, but keep in mind that you're going to be in classes with the smartest students from all over the country, some of whom may know a lot more than you. That's okay, it provides an opportunity to learn so much more!