Keasling is a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He spent his time in the Cube demonstrating the construction of a genetic circuit using basic techniques of synthetic biology.
As a pioneer in the field of synthetic biology, Jay Keasling is using new approaches to genetic engineering to tackle some of the world’s most stubborn problems.
In 2006, he announced that he had created a technology to treat malaria: a disease that kills one to three million people each year. Using a $42 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Keasling engineered E. coli cells to produce artemisinic acid: a prescursor to the natural chemical artemisinin. Artemisinin is the most effective treatment for malaria, but it has always been too costly and rare for wide use in drugs. With his synthetic version, Keasling hopes to render that problem moot. He predicts that in just a few years, a single chemical reactor could produce the world’s supply of the drug.
Now Keasling is applying a similar technology to the creation of synthetic fuel. He designed a cell that ferments sugar to produce a molecule similar to gasoline that could one day be used in cars. Amyris, a biotechnology company Keasling co-founded, aims to begin selling its biofuel in 2010 and to scale up production over the next several decades.