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The Arun Guthikonda Lecture - Jay Keasling

Monday, April 28, 2014 - 4:30pm - 5:30pm
Columbia University Morningside Campus Havemeyer Hall, Room 209

The Arun Guthikonda Lecture

Synthetic Biology for Synthetic Chemistry
Presented by Jay Keasling, UC Berkeley

Hosted by Virginia Cornish

MONDAY, April 28, 2014

Meet the Speaker at 1:30 Room 328 Havemeyer
Tea & Cookies at 4:00 Room 328 Havemeyer
Seminar at 4:30 Room 209 Havemeyer

Abstract: Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells or the redesign of existing biological systems. Synthetic biology builds on the advances in molecular, cell, and systems biology and seeks to transform biology in the same way that synthesis transformed chemistry and integrated circuit design transformed computing. The element that distinguishes synthetic biology from traditional molecular and cellular biology is the focus on the design and construction of core components (parts of enzymes, genetic circuits, metabolic pathways, etc.) that can be modeled, understood, and tuned to meet specific performance criteria, and the assembly of these smaller parts and devices into larger integrated systems that solve specific problems. Just as engineers now design integrated circuits based on the known physical properties of materials and then fabricate functioning circuits and entire processors (with relatively high reliability), synthetic biologists will soon design and build engineered biological systems.

We have used synthetic biology to create inexpensive, effective, anti-malarial drugs.  Currently, malaria infects 300500 million people and causes 1-2 million deaths each year, primarily children in Africa and Asia. One of the principal obstacles to addressing this global health threat is a lack of effective, affordable drugs. The chloroquine-based drugs that were used widely in the past have lost effectiveness because the Plasmodium parasite which causes malaria has become resistant to them.  The faster-acting, more effective artemisinin-based drugs as currently produced from plant sources are too expensive for large-scale use in the countries where they are needed most.  The development of this technology will eventually reduce the cost of artemisinin-based combination therapies significantly below their current price. To reduce the cost of these drugs and make them more widely available, we have used synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms to produce artemisinin from renewable resources.

Having successfully completed the artemisinin work, we are now engineering the metabolism of the same microorganisms (Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae) for production of advanced biofuels and chemicals that might otherwise be produced from petroleum.  Unlike ethanol, the advanced biofuels have the full fuel value of petroleum-based biofuels, will be transportable using existing infrastructure, and can be used in existing automobiles and airplanes.  Similarly, the microbially sourced chemicals can be dropped into existing processes used to produce existing materials.  These chemicals will be produced from natural biosynthetic pathways that exist in plants and a variety of microorganisms as well as from pathways that have no representation in the natural world.  Large-scale production of these chemicals and fuels will reduce our dependence on petroleum and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, while allowing us to take advantage of our current transportation infrastructure and products supply chains.

Jay Keasling received his B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Nebraska in 1986; his Ph. D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1991; and 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 is currently the Hubbard Howe Distinguished Professor of Biochemical Engineering. Keasling is also a professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Berkeley, a Sr. Faculty Scientist and Associate Laboratory Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Chief Executive Officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute. Dr. Keaslings research focuses on engineering microorganisms for environmentally friendly synthesis of small molecules or degradation of environmental contaminants. Keaslings laboratory has engineered bacteria and yeast to produce polymers, a precursor to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin, and advanced biofuels and soil microorganisms to accumulate uranium and to degrade nerve agents.

For further information regarding this event, please contact Dani Farrell by sending email to mdf2105@columbia.edu .
Categories: Academic: Lecture