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Keasling to lead new NSF SynBERC research center

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Bioethicist Laurie Zoloth and synBERC director Jay Keasling ponder a question during a webcast meeting on ethical issues in synthetic biology.

Chemical engineering professor Jay Keasling will lead the National Science Foundation's new Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, or SynBERC. The research center, launched this summer at Berkeley, seeks to make it as quick and easy to engineer biology as it now is to assemble microprocessors, hard drives and memory chips into a computer.

Funded by a five-year, $16 million grant from the NSF, SynBERC is gathering pioneers in the field of synthetic biology from around the United States into a unique "engineering" center. "The focus of SynBERC is to make biology easier to engineer," said SynBERC director Jay Keasling.
SynBERC will construct the biological components that will allow engineers to build biological solutions to important societal problems, such as the environmentally-friendly production of chemicals using microbes or replacing damaged or malfunctioning genetic circuits inside human cells to cure disease."

The center will focus on an emerging discipline — synthetic biology — that the researchers say will transform the biotechnology, high-tech, pharmaceutical and chemical industries by providing less expensive drugs and fuels, novel materials, biological sensors and replacement organs from stem cells.

SynBERC was spearheaded by the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3). QB3 involves researchers at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz, along with industry partners. At UC Berkeley, QB3 has made synthetic biology one of its key initiatives.

In addition to his other roles, Keasling is the Director of the Physical Biosciences Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor of bioengineering. Using genetic engineering techniques, he has been actively pursuing low-cost methods to produce artemisinin, a potent anti-malarial that is effective against resistant strains of the parasite.

SynBERC's researchers hope to ignite the field of synthetic biology in the same way that the developers of standardized integrated circuits in the 1960s ignited the field of semiconductor electronics. Matching funds from industry and the participating universities bring the total five-year commitment to $20 million, with the NSF offering the possibility of a five-year extension of the grant.

 

Related Items

View the SynBERC website

View the full UC Berkeley press release

View the QB3 website

For more on the NSF Engineering Research Centers

Keasling's faculty website

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