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UC Berkeley Professor Jay Keasling named Bayer Distinguished Lecturer at the Swanson School of Engineering

PITTSBURGH (July 17, 2013) … The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering has named  Jay D. Keasling, PhD , professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, as recipient of the 2013 Bayer Distinguished Lectureship. The Bayer Distinguished Lectureship is presented annually by the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, and recognizes excellence in chemical education, outreach and research. The lecture is sponsored by  Bayer MaterialScience

Dr. Keasling will present lectures on Thursday, July 25 at 5:00 pm with a reception following, and Friday, July 26 at 9:30 am. Both lectures will be presented in Benedum Hall Room 102, 3700 O'Hara Street. Parking is limited. For more information email  che@engr.pitt.edu  or call 412-624-9630.

"Dr. Keasling is well-respected for his research in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering, with applications in both medicine and biofuels," noted  Steven R. Little, PhD , associate professor, CNG Faculty Fellow and chair of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Swanson School. "With our department's interdisciplinary research interests in bioengineering, sustainability and energy, we expect Dr. Keasling's talks to be well received not only by our own faculty and students but also by our research partners in the public and private sectors."

A member of the  National Academy of Engineering , Dr. Keasling developed a more cost-effective method to develop the anti-malarial drug artemisinin from microbes instead of plants. The  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  in 2004 awarded the  Institute for OneWorld Health  a $42.5 million grant to develop and distribute this new treatment, based on Dr. Keasling's research. He received the first Scientist of the Year Award from Discover magazine in 2006 and the first Biotech Humanitarian Award from the Biotechnology Industry Organization in 2009. 

Lecture 1: Engineering Biology for Sustainable Development
Thursday, July 25, 2013, 5:00 p.m. - Benedum 102 (Reception follows) 
The richness and versatility of biological systems make them ideally suited to solve some of the world's most significant challenges, such as converting cheap, renewable resources into energy-rich molecules and valuable chemicals; producing high-quality, inexpensive drugs to fight disease; detecting and destroying chemical or biological agents; and remediating polluted sites. Over the years, significant strides have been made in engineering microorganisms to solve many of these problems. For example, microorganisms have been engineered to produce ethanol, bulk chemicals, and valuable drugs from inexpensive starting materials; to detect and degrade nerve agents as well as less toxic organic pollutants; and to accumulate metals and reduce radionuclides. However, these biological engineering challenges have long development times, in large part due to a lack of useful tools that would enable engineers to easily and predictably reprogram existing systems, let alone build new enzymes, signal transduction pathways, genetic circuits, and, eventually, whole cells. The ready availability of these tools would drastically alter the biotechnology industry, leading to less expensive pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, and biological solutions to problems that do not currently have sufficient monetary returns to justify the high cost of today's biological research.

Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells or the redesign of existing biological systems. Synthetic biology builds on the advances in molecular, cell, and systems biology and seeks to transform biology in the same way that synthesis transformed chemistry and integrated circuit design transformed computing. The element that distinguishes synthetic biology from traditional molecular and cellular biology is the focus on the design and construction of core components (parts of enzymes, genetic circuits, metabolic pathways, etc.) that can be modeled, understood, and tuned to meet specific performance criteria, and the assembly of these smaller parts and devices into larger integrated systems that solve specific problems. Just as engineers now design integrated circuits based on the known physical properties of materials and then fabricate functioning circuits and entire processors (with relatively high reliability), synthetic biologists will soon design and build engineered biological systems. Unlike many other areas of engineering, biology is incredibly non-linear and less predictable, and there is less knowledge of the parts and how they interact. Hence, the overwhelming physical details of natural biology (gene sequences, protein properties, biological systems) must be organized and recast via a set of design rules that hide information and manage complexity, thereby enabling the engineering of many-component integrated biological systems. It is only when this is accomplished that designs of significant scale will be possible. 

In this talk, Dr. Keasling will describe some of the most recent developments in synthetic biology and problems that could be profoundly impacted through synthetic biology. 

Lecture 2: Engineering Microbial Hydrocarbon Metabolism for Production of Advanced Fuels
Friday, July 26, 2013, 9:30 a.m. - Benedum 102
 Today, carbon-rich fossil fuels, primarily oil, coal and natural gas, provide 85% of the energy consumed in the United States. As world demand increases, oil reserves may become rapidly depleted. Fossil fuel use increases CO2 emissions and raises the risk of global warming. The high-energy content of liquid hydrocarbon fuels makes them the preferred energy source for all modes of transportation. In the US alone, transportation consumes around 13.8 million barrels of oil per day and generates over 0.5 gigatons of carbon per year. This release of greenhouse gases has spurred research into alternative, non-fossil energy sources. Among the options (nuclear, concentrated solar thermal, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, solar and biomass), only biomass has the potential to provide a high-energy-content transportation fuel. Biomass is a renewable resource that can be converted into carbon-neutral transportation fuels. 

Currently, biofuels such as ethanol are produced largely from grains, but there is a large, untapped resource (estimated at more than a billion tons per year) of plant biomass that could be utilized as a renewable, domestic source of liquid fuels. Well-established processes convert the starch content of the grain into sugars that can be fermented to ethanol. The energy efficiency of starch-based biofuels is however not optimal, while plant cell walls (lignocellulose) represents a huge untapped source of energy. Plant-derived biomass contains cellulose, which is more difficult to convert to sugars, hemicellulose, which contains a diversity of carbohydrates that have to be efficiently degraded by microorganisms to fuels, and lignin, which is recalcitrant to degradation and prevents cost-effective fermentation. The development of cost-effective and energy-efficient processes to transform lignocellulosic biomass into fuels is hampered by significant roadblocks, including the lack of specifically developed energy crops, the difficulty in separating biomass components, low activity of enzymes used to deconstruct biomass, and the inhibitory effect of fuels and processing byproducts on organisms responsible for producing fuels from biomass monomers. 

Dr. Keasling's team is engineering the metabolism of platform hosts (Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae) for production of advanced biofuels. Unlike ethanol, these biofuels will have the full fuel value of petroleum-based biofuels, will be transportable using existing infrastructure, and can be used in existing automobiles and airplanes. These biofuels will be produced from natural biosynthetic pathways that exist in plants and a variety of microorganisms. Large-scale production of these fuels will reduce our dependence on petroleum and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, while allowing us to take advantage of our current transportation infrastructure. 

About Bayer MaterialScience
Bayer is a global enterprise with core competencies in the fields of health care, agriculture and high-tech materials. As an innovation company, it sets trends in research-intensive areas. Bayer's products and services are designed to benefit people and improve the quality of life. At the same time, the Group aims to create value through innovation, growth and high earning power. 

Bayer is committed to the principles of sustainable development and acts as a socially and ethically responsible corporate citizen. In fiscal year 2012, Bayer employed 110,500 people and had sales of €39.8 billion ($51.9 billion). Capital expenditures amounted to €2 billion ($2.6 billion), R&D expenses to €3 billion ($3.9 billion). 

Bayer MaterialScience is a Bayer Group company. With 2012 sales of €11.5 billion ($15 billion), Bayer MaterialScience is among the world's largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, electrical and electronics, construction and sports and leisure industries. Bayer MaterialScience has 30 production sites around the globe and employed approximately 14,500 people at the end of 2012.

About the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering serves undergraduate and graduate engineering students, the University and our industry, through education, research, and participation in professional organizations and regional/national initiatives. Our commitment to the future of the chemical process industry drives the development of educational and research programs. The Department has a tradition of excellence in education and research, evidenced by recent national awards including numerous NSF CAREER Awards, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, an NIH Director's New Innovator Award, and the DOE Hydrogen Program R&D Award, among others. Active areas of research in the Department include Biological and Biomedical Systems; Energy and Sustainability; and Materials Modeling and Design. The faculty has a record of success in obtaining research funding such that the Department ranks within the top 25 U.S. ChE departments for Federal R&D spending in recent years with annual research expenditures exceeding $7 million. The vibrant research culture within the Department includes active collaboration with the adjacent University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Center for Simulation and Modeling, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, the Petersen Institute of NanoScience and Engineering and the U.S. DOE-affiliated Institute for Advanced Energy Solutions. 

About the Swanson School of Engineering
The University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering is one of the oldest engineering programs in the United States and is consistently ranked among the top 50 engineering programs nationally. The Swanson School has excelled in basic and applied research during the past decade and is on the forefront of 21st century technology including sustainability, energy systems, bioengineering, micro- and nanosystems, computational modeling, and advanced materials development. Approximately 120 faculty members serve more than 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students and Ph.D. candidates in six departments, including Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Materials Science. 



Contact: Paul Kovach