Jay D. Keasling

Research Expertise and Interest

chemical engineering, biochemical engineering, metabolic engineering of microorganisms, environmentally friendly synthesis, biodegradable and recyclable polymers, production of biofuels and bioproducts, natural products

Research Description

Jay Keasling is the Philomathia Distinguished Chair in Alternative Energy and a Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and of Bioengineering.  The research in the Keasling Laboratory focuses on the metabolic engineering of microorganisms for the environmentally friendly synthesis of biofuels, commodity and specialty chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. To that end, they have developed a number of new genetic and mathematical tools to allow more precise and reproducible control of metabolism. These tools are being used in such applications as synthesis of biodegradable polymers, biofuels, flavors and fragrances, and pharmaceuticals.

In the News

An Anti-Cancer Drug in Short Supply Can Now Be Made by Microbes

The supply of a plant-derived anti-cancer drug can finally meet global demand after a team of scientists from Denmark and the U.S. engineered yeast to produce the precursor molecules, which could previously only be obtained in trace concentrations in the native plant. A study describing the breakthrough was published today in Nature.

A “living treatment” may ease a severe skin disease

Netherton Syndrome is a rare, genetic skin disease that can be fatal to neonatal patients. It's caused by a mutation in a gene for an enzyme known as LEKTI. There is no cure. With support from the Bakar Fellows Program, bioengineer Jay Keasling aims to employ a harmless bacterium to deliver the LEKTI enzyme that Netherton children lack, restoring the natural cycle that assures healthy skin and giving them a chance for a normal life.

Scientists chart course toward a new world of synthetic biology

Genetically engineered trees that provide fire-resistant lumber for homes. Modified organs that won’t be rejected. Synthetic microbes that monitor your gut to detect invading disease organisms and kill them before you get sick. These are just some of the exciting advances likely to emerge from the 20-year-old field of engineering biology, or synthetic biology, which is now mature enough to provide solutions to a range of societal problems, according to a new roadmap released today (June 19) by the Engineering Biology Research Consortium, a public-private partnership partially funded by the National Science Foundation and centered at the University of California, Berkeley.

Yeast produce low-cost, high-quality cannabinoids

UC Berkeley synthetic biologists have engineered brewer’s yeast to produce marijuana’s main ingredients—mind-altering THC and non-psychoactive CBD—as well as novel cannabinoids not found in the plant itself.

Malaria milestone ‘took a village’

On April 25, World Malaria Day, the nonprofit Zagaya released a video Illustrating why, in the words of UC Berkeley synthetic biologist Jay Keasling, “it took a village” to create an accessible treatment for malaria that will be essential to eradicating the disease.

Campus poised to join Obama’s BRAIN initiative

Three UC Berkeley scientists were among a gathering of the nation’s top scientists at the White House this morning (Tuesday, April 2) as President Barack Obama announced a major national initiative to develop new tools to create real-time traffic maps of the human brain.


Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) researchers have developed computer assisted design (CAD)-type tools for engineering RNA components to control genetic expression in microbes. This holds enormous potential for microbial-based production of advanced biofuels, biodegradable plastics, therapeutic drugs and a host of other goods now derived from petrochemicals.

Bacteria turn switchgrass into advanced biofuels

Jay Keasling and his colleagues at the Joint BioEnergy Institute have engineered bacteria to turn switchgrass – a hard to digest plant – into gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. This could vastly reduce the cost of producing plant-based fuels to replace fuels from oil and coal.

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