Today at Berkeley Lab

Director’s Message on Biosciences Leadership Transition

Dear Berkeley Lab Colleagues,

I am excited to announce new roles for two of our leaders of the Biosciences Area. Jay Keasling has agreed to take on an important new role as Chief Science and Technology Officer for Biosciences, and Mary Maxon has accepted my offer to replace Jay as Associate Laboratory Director for Biosciences.

After twelve years in the upper management of Berkeley Lab and seven years establishing the Biosciences Area as the leading effort in the nation using biology to solve energy and environmental challenges, Jay will transition to his new role effective July 1, 2017. In this recently created position, Jay will drive new entrepreneurial approaches to developing foundational biological tools to solve important societal problems, and will devote significant efforts toward development activities in support of such Lab-wide initiatives as the Biocampus. In addition, Jay will continue in his critical roles as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), professor at UC Berkeley, and leader of his groundbreaking research program focused on engineering microorganisms to produce biofuels, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

I have appointed Mary to the position of Associate Laboratory Director as of July 1. As the Principal Deputy for Biosciences, Mary has worked with Jay in developing the Biosciences Strategic Plan, a visionary plan first published in 2013 and recently revised. This plan lays out a detailed strategy for applying biology to address national challenges in energy, environment, and health issues, while advancing the engineering of biological systems for sustainable manufacturing. Mary has been integral to developing this plan and is uniquely qualified to take over the lead role in implementing it. In addition, Mary will oversee and collaborate with Biosciences’ Division Directors, as well as with the Facilities Director of the DOE Joint Genome Institute, and the Area’s Chief Science and Technology Officer, to ensure the attainment of the Laboratory’s multidisciplinary short- and long-term scientific and operational goals.

Jay and Mary led the Biosciences area through a major reorganization to achieve better alignment of its structure with this plan and to reduce operational costs. The Laboratory has also launched a campaign to build a new Biocampus on the site of the historic Bevatron to collect all of the Biosciences research efforts in one location. The Integrative Genomics Building, which is being built to bring the DOE Joint Genome Institute and KBase to this site, is the first step in realizing this plan. In their new roles, both Mary Maxon and Jay Keasling will be working to realize the vision for Biosciences at Berkeley Lab.

Please join me in congratulating Jay and Mary in their new roles.

Best regards,
Mike Witherell

About Jay Keasling

Jay Keasling joined Berkeley Lab in 1992 as a faculty scientist in the then-Physical Biosciences Division, becoming Division Director in 2005. He served as Acting Deputy Laboratory Director in 2009, and the following year became Associate Laboratory Director for Biosciences. As ALD, Jay has transformed biological research at the Lab, working in close partnership with DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research. Under his tenure, the Area has grown into the largest biosciences program in the DOE’s national lab network. The DOE Joint Genome Institute, the flagship genomics user facility, provides the tools and expertise for its 2,000 users to apply large-scale genomics science and technology to address energy and environmental challenges. The Lab broke ground on a new Integrated Genomics Building on January 31 of this year, a new facility that will bring genomics and systems biology research together at the central Lab campus.

During his tenure as a Division Director and Associate Laboratory Director, Keasling played key leadership roles in establishing the Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU), the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc; through UC Berkeley), the Agile BioFoundry, and the Engineering Biology Research Consortium (EBRC). These efforts established Berkeley as the leading locale for research and development of synthetic biology and biofuels and brought nearly $1 billion in research funding to Berkeley Lab and its partner institutions.

JBEI, one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers established by DOE’s Office of Science in 2007, has already had an enormous scientific impact with over 1,000 publications, about 200 patents, and several start-ups. The state-of-the-art ABPDU facility was opened adjacent to JBEI in 2011 to work with industry to help expedite the commercialization of advanced next-generation biofuels. And the Agile BioFoundry spun out of JBEI’s success in building tools to aid biological engineering.

Recently, Jay has also seen the launch of commercial production of semi-synthetic artemisinin, which is a major success for synthetic biology. This achievement is based on Jay’s breakthrough discovery of how to engineer yeast to produce artemisinin, a highly effective anti-malarial agent that is much more costly to produce by other means. Over 50 million people have received the yeast-derived artemisinin since 2014.

In addition to growing the Biosciences research effort into an 800-person enterprise, Jay continues his groundbreaking research, as evidenced by his recent awards: National Academy of Engineering (2010); the Heinz Award (2012); the George Washington Carver Award (2013); the Eni Award’s Renewable Energy Prize (2014); National Academy of Inventors Fellow (2014); the Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation (2015); and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2016).

In addition to his new role at Chief Science and Technology Officer, Jay maintains his current role as JBEI CEO, as well as key positions in the scientific leadership of the Lab and at UC Berkeley, he will also continue to mentor students, one of his early passions that has grown into flagship outreach programs such as the much-lauded Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM).

About Mary Maxon

Mary Maxon joined Berkeley Lab in 2012 as the Head of Biosciences Strategic Planning and Development. She came to this role from her position as Assistant Director for Biological Research at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President, where she wrote the National Bioeconomy Blueprint (2012), the policy document that outlined federal objectives to realize the potential of strategic biological research to grow the U.S. bioeconomy. In 2014, she was recruited to develop a strategic plan for the Science Philanthropy Alliance, a community of funders whose goal is to increase philanthropic support for basic scientific research. In 2015, Mary returned to the Lab to serve as Biosciences Principal Deputy.

In addition to her work to develop and implement the 10-year strategic plan, and carry out the associated re-organization, Mary has also advanced the scientific vision behind the Biocampus campaign. Her current focus is to help launch the research programs that will fill the planned BioEPIC building, which is under active consideration as the next research facility on the Berkeley site.

Prior to coming to the Lab, Maxon held a variety of key leadership and management roles in a range of sectors including the biotechnology industry, philanthropy, and state and federal governments. Since her arrival at the Lab, Maxon has contributed to a wide range of strategic efforts and continues to be a key driver of Lab-wide initiatives. In the last few years, she has helped to develop national and regional initiatives important to the Lab, including Microbes to Biomes, the National Microbiome Initiative, BRAIN, the Agile BioFoundry, and the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine.

Mary continues to be engaged in translating her comprehensive view of the national and international landscape to help the Lab’s Biosciences Area play a significant role in driving the U.S. bioeconomy. In December 2015, she was invited to testify to the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology; in the summer of 2016, she was invited to moderate discussions on the bioeconomy for the Council on Competitiveness and for congressional staffers on Capitol Hill; and in March 2017, she was selected to participate in the release of the National Academies report, “Future Products of Biotechnology” on Capitol Hill and at the White House. In addition, Mary has been appointed to serve on many national– and state-level boards and committees, including the National Academies Board on Life Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, the California Science and Technology Policy Fellows Advisory Committee, and the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine Academic Committee.