Professor Jay Keasling - BioInnovation Institute

Professor Jay Keasling

Microbial production of therapeutic alkaloids

Monoterpenoid indole alkaloids (MIAs) are plant-derived natural products with remarkable structural diversity and a myriad of applications as therapeutics, nutraceuticals, pest control agents, and materials precursors. The project focuses on three things; developing a robust microbial platform for production of any desired MIA, determining the target MIAs that an eventual company will commercialize, and constructing separate yeast hosts that will produce these molecules at high titers, rates and yields.

PI Jay Keasling

Jay Keasling is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a visiting professor at the Technical University of Denmark. Jay Keasling is an expert in engineering microorganisms to produce chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, specialty and commodity chemicals, and biofuels. He has authored over 450 peer‐reviewed publications, is the inventor on over 50 issued US patents, and is the co‐founder of eight biotechnology companies. As principal investigator, Jay Keasling leads the overall scientific and business development efforts.

Co-PI Jie Zhang

Jie Zhang is an experienced systems and synthetic biologist trained at MIT (US) and Chalmers (SE). He has published several papers in Nature journals. Jie is leading all managerial aspects and R&D activities, as well as co-coordinating innovation and business development.

Co-PI Michael Krogh Jensen

Michael K. Jensen is an experienced synthetic biologist with +40 scientific papers, published in among others Nature and Cell journals. On the project, he supports managerial aspects and assists the research and exploitation strategy.

Host University
Q&A with Principal Investigator Jay Keasling
What have you learned about establishing companies that you can use in academia?

Almost all of the companies I have been part of involves tech and have had the purpose of solving a specific problem or situation. That influences the kind of science we do in my lab too. It is basic science at an early stage, but it tends to be focused on solving a particular issue in the world. To have this approach helps me attract the right profiles to my lab.

How did you develop an eye for potential spinouts or translational projects?

I think part of it is in my nature. I grew up on a farm and I felt the desire to approach things in a practical way which is why I became a chemical engineer rather than a chemist. To find the right projects, I stay pretty narrow in my focus on engineering microbes and I like to set my sight on the really big and important challenges because it is motivating. Not every project in my lab turns out the way we thought but it is part of science to take detours. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.

What are the most promising technologies or solutions you have seen come out of your field of research?

Today, we see products in the market that were made by engineering microbes to produce things, but the process is long and much of what is in the pipeline is currently being scaled and formulated. I think we will see more and more in the time to come.

“The Keasling team is exploiting synthetic biology to generate a robust yeast platform for the production of a broad class of naturally occurring therapeutic alkaloid compounds. Besides providing a much faster way of producing these highly complex natural compounds, their proprietary platform enables the production of unnatural alkaloids that holds the potential for improved potency and specificity.”

Louise Clemmensen, Senior Scientific Developer, BioInnovation Institute

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