Adam Arkin is the Dean A. Richard Newton Memorial Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley and Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He and his laboratory develop experimental and computational technologies for discovery, prediction, control and design of microbial and viral functions and behaviors in environmental contexts.

He is the chief scientist of the Department of Energy Scientific Focus Area, ENIGMA(Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies,, designed to understand, at a molecular level, the impact of microbial communities on their ecosystems with specific focus on terrestrial communities in contaminated watersheds. He also directs the Department of Energy Systems Biology Knowledgebase (KBase) program: ( an open platform for comparative functional genomics, systems and synthetic biology for microbes, plants and their communities, and for sharing results and methods with other scientists. He is director of the newly announced Center for Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space which seeks microbial and plant-based biological solutions for in situ resource utilization that reduce the launch mass and improves reliability and quality of food, pharmaceuticals, fuels and materials for astronauts on a mission to Mars. Finally, he is the Co-Director of the Berkeley Synthetic Biology Institute, which brings together U.C. Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Scientists with Industry Partners to forward technology and applications for sustainable biomanufacturing.

Division Director

Karen A. McDonald headshot
Karen A. McDonald

Karen McDonald is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of California at Davis.  She also serves as the Faculty Director and Co-PI of the UC Davis ADVANCE Institutional Transformation program (, a NSF-funded program to recruit, retain, and advance women STEM faculty.  She is the Institutional Co-I for CUBES at UC Davis and Division Lead for the Food and Pharmaceutical Synthesis Division.

Prior to leading the UC Davis ADVANCE program, she served as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Engineering for 13 years. She is a member of the graduate program/groups in Chemical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Plant Biology and is a co-chair of the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology program.  From 2003-2015 she served as the Co-Director of the NIH Training Grant in Biomolecular Technology at UC Davis, an innovative multidisciplinary research and educational training for doctoral students working at the interface of life sciences and engineering/physical sciences in application areas related to human health. From 2006-2013, she was the PI and Director of the NSF Collaborative Research and Education in Agricultural Technologies and Engineering (CREATE) IGERT, an interdisciplinary graduate training program with Tuskegee University focused on applications of plant biotechnology to biopharmaceuticals, biorefineries and sustainable agriculture.   

Dr. McDonald and her collaborators apply synthetic biology tools in plants for the development of novel expression systems as well as applying bioprocess engineering technologies to produce recombinant proteins (including human therapeutic proteins, enzymes for cellulose degradation, and biopolymers for materials applications) using whole plants, harvested plant tissues, or plant cells grown in vitro in bioreactors. As a biochemical engineer, she is interested in translational research and strives to develop novel biomanufacturing processes that are scalable, cost effective, and meet a variety of design constraints. She has lead large multidisciplinary research teams such as a Defense Threat Reduction Agency-funded project to develop a platform for plant-based production of bioscavengers against biothreat agents.  


Bruce Bugbee headshot
Bruce Bugbee
Areas of Interest:

Bruce Bugbee is Professor in the Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate at Utah State University. He received his PhD from Penn State University and his MS from the University of California at Davis. He joined the faculty at Utah State University in 1981.
Dr. Bugbee uses controlled environments to examine plant-environment interactions. His research has included phytoremediation, algal biofuels, photobiology, and plant water relations. His career has been guided by the idea that teaching is the highest form of understanding. He has mentored 33 graduate students, eight of whom are now on the faculty at other universities. He was awarded the Utah Governor's Medal for Science in 2012, the D. Wynne Thorne lifetime research achievement award in 2016, and the Distinguished alumni award from Penn State University in 2017.   He recently gave a TEDx talk titled, “Turning water into food.”  

Dr. Coleman-Derr received his graduate education at the University of California at Berkeley in the lab of Dr. Daniel Zilberman in the Plant and Microbial Biology Department, studying mechanisms of epigenetic regulation of transcription in the model plant Arabidopsis. He then completed a post-doctoral research position at the Joint Genome Institute in the group of Dr. Susannah Tringe studying the microbial ecology of the root systems of desert succulents; in this role he also served as bioinformatic support on multiple JGI collaborative metagenomic research efforts involving analysis of 16S rRNA tag data from a variety of environmental and host-associated samples. Dr. Coleman-Derr now leads a research team for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, where he aims to improve our understanding of the effect of abiotic stress on the plant microbiome, and to help identify plant growth promoting microbes capable of alleviating drought stress in their plant hosts. Current research involves several projects related to drought stress response in Sorghum bicolor (sorghum), including investigations into the changes in rhizosphere community composition under drought stress, a genome wide association study to reveal host loci controlled by drought tolerance-inducing root endophytes, and a screen of a collection of cereal endophytes for the ability to confer drought tolerance in sorghum. Dr. Coleman-Derr was awarded the USDA’s Scientist of the Year Award in 2017 for his contributions in this area.

Somen Nandi is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Managing Director of Global HealthShare® initiative at the University of California, Davis.
Dr. Nandi has been working on molecular breeding technology to produce the heterologous proteins in different platforms for past 18 years. He has extensive experience on the application of bioprocess engineering technologies to produce recombinant proteins (including human therapeutic proteins and enzymes) using seeds, whole plants, harvested tissues or cells grown in vitro in bioreactors as hosts, improve efficacy of target molecule by enzymatic glycan modification and performing techno-economic analyses. This multidisciplinary effort led to the development of five products, now in the market and two molecules in human clinical trials. He is interested in translational research and continually strives to develop processes that are scalable, cost effective, and meet quality specifications and regulatory requirements. Somen leads large multifaceted programs and is experienced teaching and mentoring both in developing and developed countries, including managing teams with diverse expertise, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. Somen’s research efforts in CUBES are to produce therapeutic proteins and food via optimization of plant metabolic engineering and in limited resource environment like Mars.

Dr. Trenton (Trent) Smith is an Associate Professor of Biology at Simpson University in Redding, California. He received his Ph.D. in the lab of Dr. Vicki Vance at the University of South Carolina in 2001, studying viral suppression of RNA interference in plants. Specifically, he generated and studied suppression of RNAi in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana expressing the helper component proteinase from Turnip Mosaic Virus. In early 2018, Dr. Smith joined with the lab of Dr. Karen McDonald at UC Davis, as a visiting scientist. He is designing systems to express cell wall-degrading enzymes in potato, as part of the biofuels work of CUBES.

Senior Scientist

Dr. Takashi Nakamura received his Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT and his B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Tokyo. Currently, he is the manager of Space Exploration Technologies at Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), and has been involved in numerous R&D programs sponsored by NSF, NASA, DoE and DoD. 

Dr. Nakamura has been developing, with funding from the Air Force and NASA, a unique space solar power system for power generation, propulsion, materials processing, and plant lighting in space. This concept is based on the use of optical fibers for transmission of solar radiation, the concept Dr. Nakamura pioneered in 1976 while he was at Japan's Electrotechnical Laboratory. Dr. Nakamura is an Associate Fellow of AIAA, a member of AAS and Sigma Xi.

Jeffrey Skerker's research focuses on engineering complex traits in microbes using a systems metabolic engineering approach. He has worked on a variety of non-model bacteria and fungi and is particularly interested in developing methods for high-throughput genetics and genome engineering. In the CUBES program, he will help develop Arthrospira platensis (commonly known as Spirulina) as a source of nutrition and medicine. In the initial phase of this project, a basic genetic toolbox will be developed for this organism and then as proof of concept, a two-gene pathway for the production of acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol) will be integrated into the genome. Although Spirulina is widely grown at the industrial scale as a nutritional supplement, very little strain genetic engineering has been reported in the scientific literature. 

Technical Staff

Shunsuke Yamazaki graduated Tokyo University, Japan, where he investigated the mechanism of bacterial lipoprotein transport in the laboratory of Hajime Tokuda. He is then hired Ajinomoto Co., Inc. and joined Research Institute for Bioscience Products and Fine Chemicals, Kawasaki, Japan, where he worked on breeding strains and developing several processes for production of amino-acids and pharmaceuticals. He was currently in charge of investigation of pharmaceutical production using enzymatic conversion process. He became a visiting scholar researcher of Adam Arkin lab at UC Berkeley, CA, USA.

Postdoctoral Scholar

Daniel received his Ph.D. in Plant Biology with a designated emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis in 2017. Daniel’s research utilized a multidimensional approach to better understand the immune response initiated by XA21, a rice immune receptor that provides resistance to bacterial leaf blight (BLB) disease. As part of his Ph.D. studies, Daniel also performed research at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, where he used marker-assisted selection to develop stacked resistance to BLB in the Swarna-Sub1 rice variety, which is tolerant to flooding and favored by millions of subsistence farmers in India. Daniel also interned with East-West Seed Group in Thailand, where he developed genetic markers to distinguish isolates of Colletotrichum spp. causing pepper anthracnose and Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. momordicae causing Fusarium wilt on bitter gourd. 

Daniel is currently a post-doctoral scholar in Devin Coleman-Derr’s group at the University of California, Berkeley where he is exploring ways to minimize the challenges of extraterrestrial farming, including finite resources and limited growing space within controlled-environment agricultural systems. Focusing on rice, Daniel is using a microbiome-based approach to select plant growth promoting bacteria that enhance phosphorus and water-use efficiencies. Additionally, he is using CRISPR/Cas9 based-gene editing to generate rice plants with increased conversion efficiency of light into edible biomass.

Jake hails from the far-away lands of the Midwest. He received his Bachelor's degree in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was introduced to the world of scientific research through the study of the evolution of gene expression regulation in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Upon graduation, Jake began his graduate work in Marine Studies at the University of Delaware where he studied the regulation of energy metabolism in green sulfur bacteria (the Chlorobiaceae). Being a microbiologist that had always admired synthetic biology from a distance, and one that was enamored with space exploration, Jake joined the Arkin Lab at the University of California-Berkeley as a postdoc to pursue applications of microbial engineering to space exploration and colonization. Jake's research interests include environmental microbiology, microbial physiology/systems biology, genetics, synthetic biology, and space bioengineering. 

Kalimuthu Karuppanan is a Postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Chemical Engineering, at the University of California, Davis. He received his Ph.D. in Biotechnology and M.S. degree in Plant Science from Madurai Kamaraj University, India. Since he has been at UC Davis Dr. Karuppanan has contributed to a number of research projects funded by DARPA, DTRA, and NSF and he has mentored many Ph.D. students and undergraduate researchers. He was the instructor for ECH161L, Bioprocess Engineering Laboratory course, in 2014 at UC Davis. He received the campus-wide Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research in 2016 and Phil Thai Memorial Award in Medicine for Lung Research in 2015 for his outstanding research performance. He is a co-inventor in a recently filed patent on Novel Fusion Proteins for Treating Inflammatory Diseases.  Dr. Karuppanan is a CUBES Co-PI and member of the Food and Pharmaceutical Synthesis Division.

His research is in protein biotherapeutics for treating infectious and non-infectious diseases. He has extensive experience in recombinant protein bioprocessing in planta. His work includes gene design, designing vector systems for agrobacterial-mediated gene transfer in plants, protein expression using plants and plant cell suspension cultures, protein purification using affinity and traditional chromatography systems, biophysical and functional characterization of recombinant proteins, and drug efficacy improvement by enzymatic glycan modification. 

kbsander [AT] berkeley [DOT] edu

Kyle Sander grew up in Portland, Oregon and attended Oregon State University earning a B.S. in Chemical Engineering.  He interned at a Georgia-Pacific Containerboard Mill for a year as an Environmental/Process Engineer, and then went on to earn an M.S. degree in Biological and Ecological Engineering studying life cycle effects of algae production for fuels and co-products. He also investigated rapid sand filtration as an algal dewatering process step and enzymatic degradation of, and simultaneous saccharification and ethanol production from, of algal cell biomass.

Kyle earned his PhD from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville conducting his thesis research within the BioEnergy Science Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  Kyle focused on characterizing and engineering regulatory genes and related cellular redox in two candidate lignocellulolytic, ethanol-producing biocatalysts; Clostridium thermocellum and Caldicellulosiruptor bescii.  Basic redox metabolism was characterized in C. thermocellum, yielding an expanded view of redox metabolism in this organism, as well as a set of promising redox-active metabolic loci which were targeted in subsequent engineering for ethanol yield improvement done by others.  Single-gene deletion mutants of promising regulatory gene targets in C. bescii were generated and screened in bioprocessing-relevant conditions to assess the engineering potential of each gene target.  Deletion of a global redox sensing transcription factor (Rex) enabled C. bescii to synthesize 75% more ethanol and allowed us to comprehensively describe the unique Rex regulon in this organism.  A genotype-phenotype relationship was identified between the FapR local fatty acid biosynthesis repressor and this organism’s tolerance to elevated osmolarity conditions, a highly complex, bioprocess-limiting, and difficult-to-engineer trait.

Outside of the lab, Kyle enjoys running, reading, rock-climbing, spending time with family and friends, and becoming more familiar with his new Berkeley and California surroundings.

Shuyang is a post-doctoral research associate working with Dr. Bruce Bugbee in the Crop Physiology Laboratory at the Utah State University. Her current research is focused on improving the understanding of whole-plant photosynthetic and morphological responses of food crops to light quality and quantity, primarily under artificial light in controlled environments. She received her PhD from the horticulture department at the University of Georgia in August 2017.

Graduate Student

Pauline received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Lyon, France. She is currently a visiting scholar in the Department of Chemical Engineering in the McDonald Laboratory at UC Davis.

Paul Kusuma received a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Florida, and is now pursuing a PhD in plant physiology at Utah State University. 

Matt received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He previously worked as a process engineer for Sanofi Genzyme. His current research focuses on developing a novel biologically-derived bioseparations platform for limited resource environments.

Alex graduated from Georgetown University in 2014 with a B.S. in Environmental Biology with a focus in community ecology. Following graduation, he moved to the University of Kentucky to study how bacterial symbionts mediate insect ecology in agricultural systems.

Now, pursuing a PhD in Plant Biology at UC Berkeley, Alex studies plant-associated microbial communities from shoots to roots. In cassava, a tropical root crop, Alex  investigates the phyllosphere ecology and carryover of the microbiome between planting seasons. For CUBES, he aims to construct synthetic bacterial communities via host-mediated selection to better grow rice in space. As both a Trekkie and wannabe farmer, Alex is very excited to be a member of FPSD.

Undergraduate Student

Jesse Michael Delzio
Jesse Michael Delzio
Areas of Interest:

Jesse Delzio is a third year biochemical engineering undergraduate at the University of California, Davis. He began researching in Dr. Karen McDonald's lab group in July 2017 and is currently researching drug purification through the functionalization of viral coat proteins to be used for simpler isolation in low resource environments such as Mars. He is currently working under the mentorship of Matthew McNulty. His interests include chemical engineering, biotechnology, and plant engineering. Jesse has investigated the expression and capture of recombinant parathyroid hormone from different lettuce varieties. He has also provided calculations of land area and expression levels required to sustain a team of astronauts on Mars. 

Prior to his research in Dr. McDonald's lab, Jesse worked as a lab intern for a chemical company in San Diego called Designer Molecules Inc. His main interests were chemistry and physics. He applied to the University of California, Davis and studied chemical engineering for his first two years. After discovering a project involving biomanufacturing for deep space exploration led by Dr. McDonald, Jesse's interest in biotechnology and biology grew, urging him to switch majors to biochemical engineering. He has been researching for the Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space on their Mars exploration project ever since.

Sharpless Headshot
Will Sharpless
Areas of Interest:

Will is an undergrad at UC Berkeley studying molecular biology and math. He is captivated by the potential of synthetic biology in communities and in enhanced individuals in regards to productions of biofuels and commodity chemicals, as medicinal substitutes and as agricultural supplements.