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UC Berkeley Press Release

Jay Keasling honored as Scientist of the Year

Dicsover magazine cover
Courtesy of Discover Magazine

– Discover magazine has named Jay D. Keasling, professor of chemical engineering and bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, its 2006 Scientist of the Year for his ambitious efforts to "rebuild life itself."

This is the first year Discover has accorded the honor, and Keasling beat out two hot runners up: Svante Paabo,who is sequencing the genome of Neanderthals, among other extinct animals; and John Donoghue, a neuroscientist who is developing devices that can help people who have lost the ability to move their limbs.

Keasling is a leader in the nascent field of synthetic biology, which reaches beyond simple genetic engineering of organisms to a complete genomic makeover, treating genes "like transistors wired in a circuit," writes Carl Zimmer in the December issue of Discover. By mixing and matching genes inside the bodies of microbes, Keasling and his colleagues hope to turn bacteria or yeast into factories for a broad range of useful products, not just the drugs the biotech industry focuses on.

Jay Keasling
Jay Keasling (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Zimmer adds, "Fighting malaria is just one part of Keasling's larger agenda to explore the staggering potential of synthetic biology. In his laboratory, students are engineering microbes to break down pesticides, make biodegradable plastics, and create ethanol and other fuels from plants."

Keasling is head of the synthetic biology department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and director of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), which is headquartered at UC Berkeley but involves scientists from universities around the country. Keasling also is a member of the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3), a partnership between the state of California, industry, and the UC campuses at San Francisco, Berkeley and Santa Cruz.

The complete article and Q&A with Keasling is in Discover's December issue, which is now on newsstands, and online (registration required).

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