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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Keasling to Direct Physical Biosciences

Laboratory Director Steve Chu is pleased to announce Jay Keasling as the new Division Director for Physical Biosciences. Dr. Keasling succeeds Graham Fleming, who founded the division in 1997. Fleming recently became the Lab's Deputy Director.

A UCB Professor of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, Jay Keasling joined PBD in April 2002. The following summer he became head of the division's Synthetic Biology Department, the world's first such department in a major scientific research institute. With the mandate to solve real-world problems through the design of novel organisms and biologically-inspired systems, the new department soon participated in two major achievements: A $42.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to take to production Keasling's development of a simple and much less expensive means of making a potent new anti-malarial drug, soon followed by a landmark agreement with the Samoan government to isolate the gene for prostratin, a chemical compound contained in the mamala tree that holds enormous therapeutic potential as an anti-AIDS drug. In sharing any royalties from future drug sales with the people of Samoa, the agreement promised to set a precedent for biodiversity conservation and for genetic research by including indigenous peoples as full partners in the economic benefits from new gene discoveries that result from their ancient medicines. Both successes come from Keasling's research into genetically engineered bacteria that can cheaply synthesize and mass-produce therapeutic drugs.

Next month, Keasling will increase the potential for more such achievements when he and three PBD joint faculty scientists move with their research groups to the recently announced biosciences facility on Potter Street in Berkeley. In co-locating expertise in chemistry, molecular biology and engineering to pursue grand challenges in energy and biomedical research, Keasling and his colleagues want to generate new synergies between scientists and engineers, where collaboration will achieve what cannot be accomplished through a narrow or individual approach. This framework also provided an historic opportunity for collaboration among LBNL, UCB and the Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3), which jointly sponsored and will operate the Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology.

"I am excited about the opportunity to lead the division," said Keasling. "I have very large shoes to fill. I look forward to working with the excellent scientists in PBD to build research collaborations within the division and with other divisions at LBNL to tackle some of the grand challenges facing our society, particularly those in the area of renewable energy, all the while doing the first-class science for which this Division is famous."


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