News and Highlights
JBEI researchers have developed an enzyme-free ionic liquid pretreatment of cellulosic biomass that makes it easier to recover fermentable sugars for biofuels and to recycle the ionic liquid. MORE>
Plant Biologist Dominique Loque has been honored with a 2013 Department of Energy's (DOE) Early Career Award for his work in developing synthetic biology tools to engineer improved biofuels feedstocks.
The award provides $2.5 million in funding to support Loque's research over five years. Loque received his award for "Developing Synthetic Biology Tools to Engineer Plant Root System and Improve Biomass Yield and Carbon Sequestration."
As director of the cell wall engineering research group in the Feedstocks Division Loque's work focuses on using the tools of synthetic biology to reduce the recalcitrance and boost the polysaccharide content of plant cells walls without impacting plant development. This is part of the major DOE effort to speed the commercialization of advanced biofuels.
He is one of 61 young scientists from across the nation, and one of seven from LBNL, selected for the honor by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.
Awardees were selected from a pool of 770 university- and national laboratory-based applicants. Selection was based on peer review by outside scientific experts. The Early Career Award is designed to bolster the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.
Jay Keasling, Berkeley Lab ALD for Biosciences and CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute has won the 2013 George Washington Carver Award for innovation in industrial biotechnology, presented by the Biotechnology Industry Organization. This is the second time Keasling has been recognized by BIO, which in 2009 selected him as the first recipient of the Biotech Humanitarian Award. A pioneer in synthetic biology, Keasling has engineered microbes to produce a frontline antimalarial drug and biofuel substitutes for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. He will receive his award and deliver a keynote address at BIO's annual meeting this June in Montreal. MORE>
The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) receive honors for their innovative partnership offering real-world laboratory experience to high school students from under represented communities. MORE>
Researchers at JBEI are engineering plants with low xylan content and a higher proportion of cellulosic sugars for the production of advanced biofuels. MORE>
The Department of Energy has renewed funding for JBEI for another five years at $25 million per year following strongly positive evaluations of its performance by outside peer review teams. MORE>
JBEI’s Henrik Scheller (left) and Dominque Loque are using the tools of synthetic biology to engineer plant cell walls so that the fuel sugars within are more accessible. Arabidopsis is being used as a demonstration plant. MORE>
JBEI researcher Aindrila Mukhopadhyay is one of featured scientists in a new DOE feature, "Women @ Energy", which showcases talented & dedicated women at the Energy Department. Read Aindrila's profile here.
JBEI's Blake Simmons and Seema Singh led a collaboration with the Idaho National Laboratory that showed blending different feedstocks and milling the mixture into energy-dense flour or pellets has significant potential for helping biofuels become a cost-competitive transportation fuel technology. MORE>
Jay Keasling, Berkeley Lab Associate Director for Biosciences and CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute, has been named among the Top 100 People in Bioenergy 2012-2013 by editors and readers of Biofuels Digest. He was recognized for his work in engineering microorganisms to produce renewable, carbon-neutral biofuels as substitutes for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. At the top of the list was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. At #38, Keasling was among the top scientists included on the list. MORE>
JBEI's Henrik Scheller led a collaboration that identified the first enzyme linked to galactan synthesis. Galactan is a six-carbon sugar that can be readily fermented by yeast. Increasing its levels in biomass should boost production of advanced biofuels. MORE>
JBEI's Pam Ronald and Henrik Scheller led a team of researchers that identified a gene in rice plants whose suppression improves both the extraction of xylan and the overall release of the sugars needed to make biofuels. MORE>
JBEI's Nathan Hillson led the development of PR-PR, a simple high-level robot-programming language that makes it much easier for researchers in the biological sciences to teach their robots new tricks. MORE>
JBEI's Adam Arkin led the development of an "adapator" that makes the genetic engineering of microbial components substantially easier and more predictable. The adaptor, which was successfully tested in E.coli, converts bacterial regulators of translation into regulators of transcription. MORE>
TeselaGen Biotechnology, founded by JBEI’s Nathan Hillson and two partners, says it will significantly reduce the time and cost involved with DNA synthesis and cloning, a multibillion-dollar market. It is based on the j5 software package, which has attracted users from more than 250 institutions worldwide since JBEI made it available last year. MORE>
Jay Keasling, CEO for JBEI and a leading authority on synthetic biology who has engineered microbial "factories" to manufacture a frontline antimalarial drug and biofuel substitutes for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, has won a 2012 Heinz Award. Presented by the Heinz Family Foundation, the award carries with it a medallion and a cash prize of $250,000.MORE>
Blake Simmons, VP for JBEI's Deconstruction Division, appeared on a segment in the Bay Area science series QUEST titled "Seeing Cells in 3-D." Simmons explains how X-rays produced at the National Center for X-Ray Tomography, a beamline at Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source, are being applied to biofuels research. MORE>
A summer job for eight high school students from the East Bay means working in a state-of-the art microbiology research laboratory on the next-step in bioenergy. The iCLEM program is a paid summer internship for high school students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who fall outside the typical curve of academic enrichment. It is sponsored by the Joint BioEnergy Institute and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. MORE>
JBEI researchers have identified a tropical rainforest microbe that can endure relatively high concentrations of an ionic liquid used to dissolve cellulosic biomass for the production of advanced biofuels. They've also determined how the microbe accomplishes this, a discovery that holds broad implications beyond biofuels. MORE>
Comparing the making of biofuels to brewing beer, Jay Keasling, CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and Berkeley Lab's ALD for Biosciences, explained the benefits of using engineered microbes to synthesize advanced biofuels from non-food crops in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg West" program. In the interview, Keasling pointed out that the carbon-neutrality and potential domestic production of advanced biofuels makes both good environmental and economic sense. "Instead of sending all this money (for fuel) to the Mid-East, we could be sending it to the Mid-West," he said.
JBEI researchers have developed a "dynamic sensor-regulator system" that can detect metabolic changes in microbes during the production of fatty acid-based fuels or chemicals and control the expression of genes affecting that production. The result in one demonstration was a threefold increase in the microbial production of biodiesel from glucose. MORE>
JBEI researchers have identified methyl ketones, chemical compounds known for their fragrance and flavor, as strong biofuel candidates. Methyl ketones produced from glucose by engineered E. coli yielded high cetane numbers – a diesel fuel rating comparable to the octane number for gasoline. MORE>
JBEI and Berkeley Lab scientists are exploring whether a common soil bacterium can be engineered to produce liquid transportation fuels much more efficiently than the ways in which advanced biofuels are made today. The process would be powered only by hydrogen and electricity. The goal is a biofuel—or electrofuel, as this new approach is called—that doesn't require photosynthesis. MORE>
Petrochemicals are found in thousands of everyday products, from clothing to food preservatives to plastics. Imagine if many of those chemicals could be made without petroleum and instead with biological processes. Using the tools of synthetic biology scientists at JBEI have done just that, and now a startup company has been formed to commercialize the technology. MORE>
Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) researchers have determined the three-dimensional crystal structure of a protein that is key to boosting the microbial-based production of bisabolane as a clean, green and renewable biosynthetic alternative to D2 diesel fuel. MORE>
QUEST, the award-winning multimedia science and environment series created by KQED, broadcast a story about advanced biofuels that featured both the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and the Energy Biosciences Institute, two multi-institutional partnerships in which Berkeley Lab is a key member. JBEI's Jay Keasling and Greg Bokinsky, and EBI's Chris Somerville, were all interviewed for the story which focused on the recent development of an e.coli strain that can consume switchgrass and synthesize gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. MORE>
JBEI researchers have developed computer assisted design (CAD)-type tools for engineering RNA components to control genetic expression in microbes. This holds enormous potential for microbial-based production of advanced biofuels, biodegradable plastics, therapeutic drugs and a host of other goods now derived from petrochemicals. MORE>
JBEI researchers engineered strains of E. coli bacteria to digest switchgrass biomass and synthesize its sugars into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The switchgrass, which is among the most highly touted of the potential feedstocks for advanced biofuels, was pre-treated with ionic liquid, a key to the success of this study. MORE>
JBEI researchers found that introducing a special corn gene into switchgrass was found to significantly boost the viability of the switchgrass biomass as a feedstock crop for advanced biofuels. The gene, a variant of the Corngrass1 gene, holds the switchgrass in a perpetual juvenile state, more than doubling its starch content and making it easier to convert its polysaccharides into fermentable sugars. MORE>
Critical genetic secrets of a bacterium that holds potential for removing toxic and radioactive waste from the environment have been revealed in a study led by JBEI and Berkeley Lab researchers. The researchers have created a first-of-its-kind gene map of Desulfovibrio vulgaris, which can be used to identify the genes that determine how these bacteria interact with their surrounding environment. MORE>
JBEI researchers have developed the first genome-scale model for predicting the functions of genes and gene networks in a grass species. Called RiceNet, this systems-level model of rice gene interactions should help speed the development of new crops for the production of advanced biofuels, as well as help boost the production and improve the quality of one of the world's most important food staples. MORE>
Joint BioEnergy Institute Scientists Identify New Microbe-Produced Advanced Biofuel as an Alternative to Diesel Fuel
JBEI researchers have identified a terpene called bisabolane as a potential biofuel for replacing diesel fuel. The researchers have also engineered two strains of microbes – a bacteria and a yeast – that can be used in the biosynthetic production of this clean, green, renewable and domestic alternative to diesel fuel. MORE>
Berkeley Lab has opened the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU), a state-of-the art facility, designed to help expedite the commercialization of advanced next-generation biofuels by providing industry-scale test beds for discoveries made in the laboratory. MORE>
JBEI scientists have developed the first software package for automating DNA construction that not only makes the process faster and more efficient but – with an eye on the economics of scientific discovery – also identifies which construction strategy would be the most cost-effective. MORE>
iCLEM – the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology – is a summer education program for Bay Area high school students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds unlike any other. Not only does iCLEM provide the students with a hands-on science experience, it also pays them a salary. iCLEM is sponsored by the Joint BioEnergy Institute and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. MORE>
The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) will partner with the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow to evaluate unique ceramic membrane separators as an economic means of recovering advanced biofuels. The partnership is part of a joint energy action plan between the U.S. and Russia recently signed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu. MORE>
JBEI's Harvey Blanch and Jay Keasling were featured in a New York Times story discussing the challenges facing start-up companies that would enter the field of advanced biofuels. MORE>
Researchers at JBEI have created a library of microbial efflux pumps that reduce toxicity and boost production of biofuels in engineered strains of microbes. This library and the bioprospecting strategy behind it should serve as valuable new tools for the development of advanced biofuels and other areas of biotechnology as well. MORE>
Using the tools of synthetic biology, JBEI and Berkeley Lab researchers have engineered the first RNA-based regulatory system that can independently control the transcription activities of multiple targets in a single cell. This is a significant advance for the design and construction of programmable genetic networks. MORE>
Can emerging technology defeat global warming? The United States has invested tens of billions of dollars in clean energy projects as our leaders try to save our crumbling economy and our poisoned planet in one bold, green stroke. Are we finally on the brink of a green-energy "power surge," or is it all a case of too little, too late? NOVA focuses on the latest and greatest innovations, including the biofuels work of Jay Keasling and the Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), featured in chapter five of the program. MORE>
Starting a New Metabolic Path: JBEI and Berkeley Lab Researchers Develop Technique to Help Metabolic Engineering
JBEI and Berkelety Lab researchers have demonstrated a new technique for the metabolic engineering of microbes that speeds up and improves the identification and quantification of proteins within a cell or organism. The new technique is called "targeted proteomics." MORE>
JBEI's Jay Keasling is profiled in a segment on NOVA's "scienceNOW" program for the episode titled "What's The Next Big Thing?" Keasling explains to program host Neil deGrasse Tyson how the tools of synthetic biology that helped him create an inexpensive microbial-based means of producing the antimalarial drug artemisinin are now being used at the Joint BioEnergy Institute to create new advanced biofuels for replacing gasoline. The interview is an intimate and highly informative look at Keasling and his work. The video will start after a brief promotion for a PBS program. MORE>
[Chemical & Engineering News] Chemists, chemical engineers, and synthetic biologists have largely met the technical challenge of developing biofuels to supplement and then replace petroleum-derived transportation fuels in the coming decades. For biofuels to reach the U.S. market, however, these technologies have to fit into the existing transportation fuel infrastructure. MORE>
Can innovations in materials science help clean up our world? In "Making Stuff: Cleaner," New York Times reporter David Pogue explores the rapidly developing science and business of clean energy and examines alternative ways to generate it, store it, and distribute it. This third installment of the four-part NOVA series airs tonight at 9 p.m. on KQED. Jay Keasling and the Joint BioEnergy Institute he leads are featured in the episode. Watch a preview of the program below. MORE>
JBEI's Jay Keasling, a leading authority on metabolic engineering, envisions a future in which microorganisms are tailor-made to produce specific chemical products, such as biofuels and pharmaceuticals, from inexpensive and renewable starting materials. He has written a paper on the subject for the journal Science. MORE>
Jay Keasling, Associate Lab Director for Biosciences and CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute, appears in a video on biotechnology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The video is part of en exhibit titled "Science in American Life," which examines the relationship between science, technology, progress and culture through artifacts, historical photographs and multimedia technology. Keasling is one of four scientists interviewed for the video. In his segment he discusses synthetic biology. MORE>
Contrary to long-held beliefs, plants and animals have
developed remarkably similar mechanisms for detecting microbial invasions. This holds promise for the future treatment of infectious diseases in humans.MORE>
JBEI's Trent Northen was named by President Barack Obama to receive the prestigious Presidential Early Career for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) Award, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on early-career researchers. MORE>
JBEI researchers have created an on-line wiki-based technoeconomic model that should help accelerate the development of clean, green biofuels that can compete with gasoline. The model enables researchers to pursue the most promising strategies for cost-efficient biorefinery operations. MORE>
iCLEM, which stands for Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology, is a program that provides paid internships to underserved Bay Area high school students, giving them a chance to participate in actual scientific research while gaining experience in numerous college preparation activities and earning money. MORE>
JBEI scientists identified a trio of bacterial enzymes that can catalyze key steps in the conversion of plant sugars into hydrocarbon compounds for the production of green transportation fuels. MORE>
JBEI researchers have developed a microbe that can produce an advanced biofuel fuel directly from biomass. Deploying the tools of synthetic biology, the JBEI researchers engineered a strain of E. coli bacteria to produce biodiesel and other important chemicals derived from fatty acids. MORE>
In an appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," JBEI CEO Jay Keasling explained how he and his JBEI colleague
are engineering bacteria to produce fuel from sugar. Deflecting host Stephen Colbert's suggestion that he is a mad scientist, Keasling says "the same yeast that we use to produce beer and bread" will soon be fueling our cars and planes. He also talks about the low-cost anti-malarial drug his lab has already produced using the same process. MORE>
For earlier news stories about the research at JBEI, visit the Berkeley Lab News Center and enter "JBEI" into the search engine on that site.