Jay Keasling

Chief Executive Officer and Director of New Pathways and Metabolic Models

Research Focus

A pioneer in the field of synthetic biology, Keasling’s research focuses on engineering microorganisms to produce useful chemicals. During the early 2000s, Keasling led a UC Berkeley research team that engineered yeast to synthetically produce artemisinin, the powerful anti-malarial drug. Researchers in his group are now using the same technology to produce biofuels and bioproducts from lignocellulosic biomass.

His expertise includes:

  • engineering pathways for high-level and large-scale production of hydrocarbons
  • using functional genomics to characterize engineered organisms
  • developing biological components (gene expression control systems, metabolic pathways, enzymes) and host cells (e.g. Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Pseudomonas putida, Streptomyces) for production of biofuels and bioproducts.


The focus of the work of the Keasling Laboratory in JBEI is to produce advanced biofuels and bioproducts using polyketide synthases (PKSs). PKSs are responsible for synthesis of countless natural products that have found use as human therapeutics (e.g., antibiotics, anticancer, etc.). PKSs and their relatives, the non-ribosomal peptide synthases (NRPSs), have incredible chemical flexibility. What’s more, the sequence of the subunits in the PKS/NRPS can be directly mapped onto the resulting chemical that they produce, and parts of PKSs and NRPSs can be recombined into unnatural enzymes that will produce different (unnatural) chemicals. The Keasling Laboratory in JBEI is recombining PKSs/NRPSs to produce chemicals that might otherwise be produced from petroleum (e.g., hydrocarbon fuels, adipic acid, etc.) as well as chemicals that could never be produced from petroleum using chemistry that is available today. Examples of work in the Keasling Laboratory’s efforts in JBEI include:

  • development and optimization of hybrid PKSs/NRPSs to produce a variety of fuels and chemicals,
  • development of pathways to precursors that will feed the hybrid PKSs/NRPSs to produce the desired products and
  • expression of the engineered PKSs/NRPSs and precursor pathways in JBEI hosts in order to produce these molecules from lignocellulosic biomass.

Featured Media

Looking at the Future of Synthetic Biology (Video, NHK-World Japan)

Metabolic Engineering of Lipids Improves the Respiratory Function of Biofuels and Bioproducts Hosts

Faster, Cheaper, Better: A New Way to Synthesize DNA

From cyclotrons to wetsuits: A brief history of UC Berkeley’s scientific endeavors

Brewing hoppy beer without the hops

Keasling Wins Israel’s Top Prize in Alternative Fuels

The Economist Recognizes JBEI’s CEO Jay Keasling for Anti-Malarial Effort

Life-Saving Dividends for Synthetic Biology Research: Microbial-Based Antimalarial Drug Shipped to Africa

Jay Keasling with children in a village outside Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo by Gabrielle Tenenbaum)

Keasling Wins 2014 Eni Award’s Renewable Energy Prize

Less Toxic Metabolites, More Chemical Product

Turning Sugar into High Performance Fuel: CNN’s The Next List Profiles Jay Keasling

Launch of Antimalarial Drug a Triumph for Synthetic Biology

Jay Keasling Wins Heinz Award


Featured Publications

Featured Intellectual Property