What if we could get our gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from yeast instead of from oil wells? That’s not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, it’s already happening on a small scale. And there’s a vigorous research effort to ramp this up on a massive scale.
One of the more innovative approaches uses a new technology called “synthetic biology.” Jay Keasling is one of the leaders in this hot field.
With his supershort crew cut and friendly demeanor, Keasling would fit in nicely where he grew up — on a corn farm in Nebraska that’s been in his family for generations. But these days you’ll find him in a glistening building in Emeryville, Calif., home to several of his many endeavors.
Among the many hats Keasling wears is that of associate laboratory director for biosciences at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He’s also CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute, director of the Synthetic Biology Research Center, and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Not to mention founder of three biotechnology companies — Amyris, LS9 and Lygos.
“My research [focus], since I’ve been at Berkeley for the past 20 years, is, ‘How do you engineer chemistry within cells?’ ” Keasling says. “I really believe you can use microbes as little chemical factories to produce almost anything we want.”