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Keasling wins NorCal AIChE Research Project of the Year

Jay Keasling (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Jay Keasling (Peg Skorpinski photo)

April 6, 2007

Award for Chemical Engineering Excellence
Chemical engineering professor Jay Keasling has been awarded the 2006/2007 NorCal AIChE Award for Research Project of the Year. Keasling is being recognized for his efforts to synthesize artemisinin, a powerful anti-malarial drug. The award will be presented during a luncheon at the NorCal AIChE one-day symposium held April 12, 2007, at His Lordships restaurant in Berkeley.

Slaying one of the world's biggest killers, malaria
In late 2004, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $43 million to Keasling’s Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology, in partnership with the Institute for One World Health and Amyris Biotechnologies, to genetically re-engineer bacteria to grow artemisinin.

Malaria continues to be a global health problem which threatens 300-500 million people and kills more than one million people annually.  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. 

Artemisinin (sesquiterpene lactone endoperoxide), extracted from Wormwood trees  (Artemisia annua) in Asia, is highly effective against the Plasmodium parasite. However, there are three problems with current production methods for artemisinin:

The Keasling group has engineered a cost-effective synthetic biological method for producing a precursor to artemisinin.  This technology be useful not only for production of anti-malarial drugs, but also for the environmentally-benign production of other drugs, specialty chemicals, fragrances, and fuels.

Keasling is the Hubbard Howe, Jr. Professor of Biochemical Engineering, in the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley. He is also Division Director, Physical Biosciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Director of the Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology.

Keasling received a B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from University of Nebraska and an M.S. and a PH.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of Michigan. He also completed a one-year post doctorate at Stanford University.  He joined the University of California Chemical Engineering Department in 1992. His honors include Scientist of the Year, Discovery Magazine, 2006; election as a Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, 2000; the AIChE Award for Chemical Engineering Excellence in Academic Teaching, Northern California Section of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers, 1999; Chevron Young Faculty Fellowship, Chevron, 1995 and a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, 1995. His work has been widely chronicled in the press, including the New York Times, Time Magazine and Discovery Magazine.

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