The winner of the 2013 Promega Biotechnology Research Award is Jay Keasling, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley. This award honors significant contributions to the application of biotechnology through fundamental microbiological research and development. According to Jizhong Zhou, University of Oklahoma, “Keasling is a pioneer and international leader in engineering microorganisms to produce active pharmaceutical ingredients, commodity chemicals, specialty polymers, and biofuels.”
In 1986 Keasling obtained his B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Nebraska, and in 1991 he obtained his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan. From 1991-1992 he did his post-doctoral work in Biochemistry at Stanford University. Keasling joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley as an assistant professor in 1992, where he is now the Hubbard Howe Distinguished Professor of Biochemical Engineering. In addition to teaching in the department of Biochemical Engineering, he is also a professor in the Department of Bioengineering, a Sr. Faculty Scientist and Associate Laboratory Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Chief Executive Officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute. His research focuses on engineering microorganisms for environmentally friendly synthesis of small molecules or degradation of environmental contaminants. George Church, Harvard University, describes Keasling’s work. “The production of anti-malarial artemisinin precursors in engineered Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains was the main "poster child" for the synthetic biology community for years. This project involved more extensive genome-wide modifications than any other study.” Keasling’s laboratory has also engineered microorganisms to produce biofuels, accumulate uranium and degrade nerve agents.
Keasling is a highly sought after speaker and presenter, both nationally and internationally, and has over 200 publications, including papers in Nature and Science. Bernhard Palsson, University of California, San Diego, says, “His leadership in the synthetic biology field is widely recognized, through SynBERC and other activities. His contributions to the metabolic engineering field through biofuels at JBEI and artemisinin for treatment of malaria are well known. The company Amyris that he co-founded is seen as a leader in its field.” His contributions to the field have been recognized through many awards and honors. Keasling, who is an American Academy of Microbiology Fellow, has won many awards including the 2012 International Metabolic Engineering Award from the Metabolic Engineering Society, the 2010 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and was Discover Magazine’s 2006 Scientist of the Year.