Jay D. Keasling (UC-Berkeley)

Jay D. Keasling (UC-Berkeley)

Butler Seminar Series

Event Date/Location

April 11, 2018 -
12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Thomas Laboratory 003


  • Picture of Professor Keasling

    Jay D. Keasling

    UC Berkeley, College of Chemistry
    Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
    Department of Bioengineering

    Jay Keasling is the Hubbard Howe Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biochemical Engineering at the

    University of California, Berkeley in the Departments of Bioengineering and Chemical and

    Biomolecular Engineering, senior faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,

    and Chief Executive Officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). Dr. Keasling’s research

    focuses on the metabolic engineering of microorganisms for degradation of environmental

    contaminants or for environmentally friendly synthesis of drugs, chemicals, and fuels. Keasling

    received a B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Nebraska and M.S. and Ph.D.

    in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and did post-doctoral research in

    biochemistry at Stanford University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering

    and the National Academy of Inventors.


Engineering microorganisms for production of isoprenoid natural products and some not-so-natural products

Isoprenoids are one of the most diverse groups of natural products in nature. In plants they range from essential and relatively universal primary metabolites, such as sterols, carotenoids, quinones, and hormones, to more unique and sometimes species-specific secondary metabolites that may serve in roles such as plant defense and communication. Isoprenoids are synthesized from universal precursors and are classified into groups according to the number of carbons they contain; monoterpenes (C10), sesquiterpenes (C15) and diterpenes (C20). Many terpenoids have been found to exhibit potent biological activity, with several of them in development or in use therapeutically. The anti-malarial drug artemisinin and the anti-cancer agent Taxol serve to illustrate the clinical importance of sesquiterpenoids and diterpenoids, respectively. Others have found use as flavors and fragrances, cleaners and disinfectants, and even biofuels.

There are many examples of isoprenoids with economic and therapeutic potential whose development has been limited by low availability of the isoprenoid product. Unfortunately, organic synthesis of isoprenoid-derived drugs and other molecules is challenging due to the presence of several chiral centers and the need for protection and de-protection of functional groups. Furthermore, synthetic chemistry approaches to construct and oxidize isoprenoids often rely on toxic organic solvents and expensive metal catalysts to achieve the carbon-carbon (C-C) bond formation and the carbon-hydrogen (C-H) activation reactions.

Microbial synthesis of complex isoprenoids takes advantage of natural biosynthetic pathways without the need for long synthetic routes and toxic chemicals. Over the last 15 years, my laboratory has engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Escherichia coli, and assorted other microorganisms to produce isoprenoid natural products. In my talk, I will describe the tools and methods we have developed for engineering microorganisms to produce some important plant isoprenoids and some not-so-natural isoprenoid derivatives, discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead, and discuss our successes in scaling and commercializing a few molecules.


Free and open to the university community and the public.


Zemer Gitai, Department of Molecular Biology