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Meet ...

Jay Keasling, CHEMICAL ENGINEER, Berkeley, California

Jay Keasling

"We could potentially turn any plant—grass, weeds, even paper waste—into energy."

What He's Doing

In 2006, Discover magazine named Jay Keasling "Scientist of the Year," recognizing his ingenious plans to re-create life in the lab. He's been featured by Newsweek, Esquire, and most major U.S. newspapers for his groundbreaking approach to science, and to life.

Keasling wants to use bacteria or yeast as factories to make medicines and other products that people want and need. That includes novel ways to break down pesticides, make biodegradable plastics, and create plant-based fuels.

BORN IN
Harvard, Nebraska
JOB SITE
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley
FAVORITE TEAM
Nebraska Cornhusker football
FAVORITE FOOD
Beef, but with guilt because of the high energy cost (eight pounds of corn are needed to produce one pound of beef)
BEST VACATION
On the beach in Hawaii!

He is also working out a strategy to get bacteria to make drugs to combat HIV/AIDS. Current therapies target only actively replicating virus but leave behind reservoirs of virus that hide out inside the body.

Keasling is devising a simple, low-cost method for microbes to churn out two plant-based molecules that are known to capture hidden HIV and also block its spread after infection. He is also trying to turn cellulose—found in virtually all plants and the most common organic molecule on the planet—into biofuel.

His Findings

Another of Keasling's many goals is to make an effective malaria drug on the cheap. Although the medicine artemisinin works well against malaria, it is very expensive to produce. Its high cost limits the drug's use in developing countries, where it is needed most.

Keasling is working on getting bacteria to make artemisinin for one-tenth the cost per dose. He recently moved one step closer to this goal by getting microbes to make a precursor molecule that can be then converted to artemisinin.

Meet a Chemist

 

This page last reviewed on April 22, 2011