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Jay Keasling

Jay D. Keasling

Chief Executive Officer and Vice President of Fuels Synthesis,
Joint BioEnergy Institute

Head, Synthetic Biology Department; Professor,
University of California, Department of Chemical Engineering, Berkeley

Division Director, Physical Biosciences Division,
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Department Head, Synthetic Biology,
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Contact Information

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Joint BioEenergy Institute
One Cyclotron Road
Mail Stop: 978-4121
Berkeley, California 94720


5885 Hollis St.
Emeryville, CA 94608
Phone: (510) 495-2620
Fax: (510) 495-2630
Email: keasling@berkeley.edu
Email: JDKeasling@lbl.gov
Website: Keasling Laboratory

Current Research

Synergistic Activities

  • Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. The vision of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) is to develop the foundational understanding and technologies to build biological components and assemble them into integrated systems to accomplish many particular tasks; to train a new cadre of engineers who will specialize in synthetic biology; and to educate the public about the benefits and potential risks of synthetic biology. The research program will develop the foundational understanding and technologies to build biological components and assemble them into an integrated system to accomplish a particular task. The Center’s specific aims are 1) to develop a conceptual framework for designing small biological components (parts) that can be assembled into devices that will perform a well-characterized function under specified conditions, 2) to develop a small number of chassis (stable, robust bacterial hosts with known responses) to host the engineered devices and to assemble several devices to accomplish a larger vision or goal, 3) to develop a set of standards for the interactions of the parts and devices so that the devices can be built more readily and reproducibly, and 4) to offer the parts, devices, and chassis as open source to other researchers and companies. These objectives will be achieved through four thrust areas in 1) Parts and Part Composition, 2) Devices and Device Composition, 3) Chassis Design, Construction, and Characterization, and 4) Human Practices. Two testbed applications will drive development of the thrusts. The resulting parts, devices, and chassis will be managed through a distributed web of Registries of Standard Biological Parts. JBEI will benefit from the standards and the parts, devices, and chassis developed and served by SynBERC investigators

  • Microbial production of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. Malaria is a global health problem that threatens 300-500 million people and kills more than one million people annually. The chloroquine-based drugs that were used widely in the past have lost effectiveness because the Plasmodium parasite which causes malaria has become resistant to them. Artemisinin, a sesquiterpene lactone endoperoxide extracted from Artemisia annua L, is highly effective against Plasmodium spp. resistant to other anti-malarial drugs. However, artemisinin is too expensive for people in the Developing World to afford, it is extracted from A. annua using an environmentally unfriendly process, and the chemical synthesis is too low yielding and therefore too expensive for use in producing artemisinin. Using state-of-the-art technology (synthetic biology), we engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae to produce high levels of artemisinic acid, a precursor to artemisinin that can be modified using established and simple chemistry to form artemisinin or any artemisinin derivative currently used to treat malaria. The microorganisms were engineered by constructing a twelve-gene biosynthetic pathway using genes from Artemisia annua, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and Escherichia coli to transform a simple and renewable sugar, like glucose, into the complicated chemical structure of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. The engineered microorganism is capable of secreting the final product from the cell, thereby purifying it from all of the other intracellular chemicals and thereby reducing the purification costs and therefore the cost of the final drug. When fully implemented, we anticipate that this technology will reduce the cost of artemisinin by an order of magnitude. In addition to reducing the cost and eliminating the use of harmful solvents, the microbial process will eliminate potentially environmentally harmful farming practices and eliminate supply variability due to weather and politics. This project is analogous to and a model for the work being conducted in the Fuels Synthesis section of this proposal. This project will be completed Jan. 2008.

DOE BioEnergy Research Centers