Discover magazine recently named Keasling 2006 Scientist of the Year, selecting his breakthroughs over the work of others that, for instance, redefined the term "planet," showed how early life moved onto land, and bolstered the case for global warming.
As director of the Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology, Dr. Keasling's research seeks to expand the biotechnology process from expressing single proteins within cells to recreating complex chemical processes within engineered organisms. "That's how we treat the cell in my lab: It's a chemical reactor. It takes in something very simple and spits out something complicated and valuable," he told Discover.
Keasling's laboratory has integrated genes from different species into bacteria that clean up toxic wastes, such as heavy metals and organophosphate pesticides. Early in 2006, Keasling engineered a yeast containing bacterial and wormwood genes into a chemical factory to produce a precursor to artemisinin, the most effective and expensive anti-malarial drug. Since artemisinin is a hydrocarbon, this work has led him into study of the production of biofuels.
Jay Keasling received his B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Nebraska in 1986 and his Ph. D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1991. He did post-doctoral work in Biochemistry at Stanford University from 1991-1992. Keasling joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley as an assistant professor in 1992, where he remains a renowned professor.
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