Terra Sigillata

Wasn’t able to get off an original post today so I’ll direct Terra Sig readers to an excellent interview written by Carl Zimmer. As Carl writes,

Discover chose Jay Keasling as their scientist of the year and asked me to interview him. Keasling, who directs the Berkeley Center for Synthetic Biology, is trying to get either E. coli or yeast to crank out a powerful malaria drug normally only made by the sweet wormwood plant. I had already been getting familiar with Keasling’s work, since it is a great example of the sort of work that’s being done on E coli, the subject of my book. So it was a pleasure to talk to Keasling at length about this ambitious project.

Keasling’s group is taking natural products drug discovery and development to the next level by cloning synthetic gene cassettes and putting them into a tractable host system, thereby overcoming the problems of medicinal plant sourcing or cultivation (or the need for hoardes of synthetic chemists, no offense). The fact that Keasling is doing this work for artemisinin, to treat malaria worldwide, has led to support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and, obviously, the admiration of the editors at Discover.

Zimmer does his usual superb job of making a complex subject exceedingly approachable and exciting – read the interview.


  1. #1 Doc Bushwell
    December 19, 2006

    Very nice. Thanks for posting Carl’s excellent article. Keasling et al. have taken the concept of mutasynthesis and expanded it beautifully. No doubt there will be caveats with the technology, but still, getting a bug to produce an elaborate compound with a gazillion chiral centers, and with the correct stereochemistry, is pretty cool!

  2. #2 sam
    January 5, 2007

    E Coli is being used on the forefront of so much varied research, I would love to get my hands on a book about it. But I was under the impression that pesticides were much more effective at combating malaria than anything else by far. Have we decided to leave pesticide research behind for more flashy bioengineering or am I missing something?

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