Heritage Day Awards

Metabolic Engineer Jay Keasling to Receive Science History Institute’s Prestigious Othmer Gold Medal

Noted synthetic biotechnology pioneer to be recognized as part of Institute’s annual Heritage Day celebration on May 11, 2022.
January 21, 2022

The Science History Institute is pleased to announce that metabolic engineer Jay Keasling will be the 2022 recipient of the Othmer Gold Medal. The prestigious award is presented as part of the Institute’s annual Heritage Day celebration (now Curious Histories Fest), which will take place this year on Wednesday, May 11.

Keasling, who is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, has been a leader in synthetic biotechnology since the field’s beginnings in the 1990s. His work focuses on developing foundational tools for engineering metabolism inside cells and to use those tools to solve important societal problems. His lab has created a variety of tools for regulating metabolic pathways inside cells, novel metabolic pathways to produce unnatural molecules, and robust microbial hosts for producing chemicals under a variety of industrial conditions. These tools were used to produce the antimalarial drug artemisinin, a variety of commodity and specialty chemicals, and biofuels. He is also a senior faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy bioenergy research center led by Berkeley Lab dedicated to developing advanced biofuels.

“We are delighted to add Dr. Keasling to the storied list of Othmer Gold Medal winners,” said Institute president and CEO David Cole. “He has long been considered one of the greatest minds in synthetic biotechnology, especially in the field of metabolic engineering. His success in developing synthetic biology tools to engineer the antimalarial drug artemisinin and his innovative work in biofuel manufacturing exceed the criteria for this award, and we are eager to honor him at the award ceremony in May.”

The medal is named after Donald Othmer (1904–1995), the noted researcher, editor, engineer, inventor, philanthropist, professor, and coeditor of the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. Like the medal’s namesake, winners must have made extraordinary contributions in not just one aspect of the materials sciences but in many. The roster of past winners includes some of the most versatile and multitalented individuals in the scientific community.

The Othmer Gold Medal is cosponsored by four affiliated organizations: the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Chemists’ Club, and the Société de Chimie Industrielle (American Section).

The award ceremony will be part of a virtual celebration available for public participation on May 11, 2022, that will be presented live from the Science History Institute.

About Jay Keasling

Jay Keasling is a professor in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and the Department of Bioengineering, and the Philomathia Chair in Alternative Energy at the University of California, Berkeley. He serves as faculty senior scientist in the Biological Systems and Engineering Division of the Biosciences Area at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute.

Keasling is a pioneer in engineering microbes and metabolism. During the early 2000s, he led a UC Berkeley research team to use engineered yeast to synthetically produce artemisinin, the powerful antimalarial drug. Researchers at the Keasling Lab are now using the same technology to produce other pharmaceuticals, commodity chemicals, and cellulosic biofuels.

Keasling received a BS in chemistry and biology from the University of Nebraska and an MS and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan. He also did postdoctoral research in biochemistry at Stanford University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors.

Watch the Othmer Gold Medal presentation and Q&A with Jay Keasling here:

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