Today at Berkeley Lab

Keasling Announces Biosciences’ Reorganization

Citing the changing nature of the Department of Energy’s biology mission, concerns about non-DOE funding, and the benefits of a refreshed divisional structure, Jay Keasling, Associate Laboratory Director for Biosciences, has announced an extensive reorganization of the Biosciences Area, effective October 1.

In a series of May 5, town hall meetings with scientists and operations staff from Berkeley Lab’s existing Life Sciences, Physical Biosciences and Genomics Divisions, Keasling described the year-long planning process and research imperatives that have shaped the proposal.

“Our goal is to better align our divisions with current and future research focused on energy and the environment,” Keasling explained. “Business as usual is not an option for us moving forward.”

The centerpiece of the reorganization is a new division structure that Keasling and his colleagues believe will ensure the kind of teamwork and research synergies for which Berkeley Lab is famed. Moreover, Keasling explained, the realignment will further Berkeley Lab’s reputation as the National-Laboratory-system leader in exploring and exploiting biological solutions to the world’s most daunting energy and environmental challenges.

The new Divisions are provisionally named: Environmental Genomics & Systems Biology; Biological Engineering; and Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry. In keeping with the recommendations of two external advisory committees, the new divisions encompass existing programs and emerging capabilities. [See accompanying charts.] As a consequence the current Divisional structure that includes Life Sciences, Genomics and Physical Biosciences will be melded and replaced at the close of the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

“The easiest way to think of this is to imagine a matrix: the four areas of research articulated in the Biosciences Strategic Plan [energy, environment, biomanufacturing, health] as applications that cut across the three new Divisions,” Keasling remarked. “The pieces fit together in a way that allows flexibility and strength as we pursue new opportunities to build programs and our funding base at Berkeley Lab.”

Keasling conceded that the administrative challenges required to execute this plan are immense, particularly since the goal is to sustainably equalize costs and services across Divisions under a set of common Area organization policies. During a question-and-answer exchange, Keasling added that the changes will bring Biosciences closer to how other Scientific Areas at Berkeley Lab already function, and that a limited number of layoffs, while possible, are not an objective.

Over the next four months, Keasling and his colleagues have committed to an exhaustive planning retreat and meeting schedule during which scientists will learn of their new Division assignments, suggest changes and refinements to the plan, and be kept informed of all aspects of the restructuring, from overhead rates to the centralization of staff. Acknowledging that the Lab was in the midst of an unprecedented number of building-related moves, Keasling offered a final reassurance. “One thing I can tell you for sure right now, most people will not need to move.”

Look to future issues of TABL for continuing coverage of the Biosciences’ reorganization, including an upcoming interview with Jay Keasling.

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