AMYRIS BIOTECHNOLOGIES has almost finished developing a cheap cure for malaria that could save the lives of millions of the poor. Now, using the same technology, this start-up in Emeryville, Calif., wants to create new biofuels that may help save the planet.
Amyris’s technology derives from the research of Jay D. Keasling, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and the director of the synthetic biology department of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Mr. Keasling’s lab is widely credited with making commercially practical an emerging technology called metabolic engineering.
Until recently, genetic engineering of the sort associated with traditional biotechnology has been limited to modifying a cell’s processes by inserting, mutating or deleting a single gene or a few significant genes. Genetic engineering has coaxed microorganisms like the common bacterium E. coli to produce drugs like human insulin, but has produced little else besides such protein drugs and a few antibiotics.
Mr. Keasling’s metabolic engineering is farther-reaching and, potentially, much more productive. His lab has invented techniques that rewrite the metabolisms of microorganisms. By modifying the structure of a microorganism’s proteins and adding genes from other organisms, Mr. Keasling has designed microbial factories that can produce a tremendous variety of drugs, biofuels and other chemicals.
Amyris was founded in the summer of 2003 by Mr. Keasling and three young postdoctoral students from his lab: Neil Renninger, Kinkead Reiling and Jack D. Newman. They received the large grant from the Gates Foundation a little more than a year later.
It's Lab-derived, Emeryville based, and damned kewl. What's not to like? (no biases here ;)