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, http://enigma.lbl.gov), 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: (http://kbase.us) 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.
Karen McDonald is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of California at Davis. She also previously served 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 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 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 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.
Imran Khan received PhD fellowship from German Academic and Exchange Service (DAAD) for his doctoral study at Institute for Molecular Biotechnology, RWTH Aachen University, Germany. He also served Vienna Institute for Biotechnology, Vienna, Austria, as researcher where he investigated expression and targeting of recombinant proteins in plant tissues. He also received research funding as PI and supervised PhD and master students working as Assistant Professor at Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Islamabad, Pakistan. He completed his postdoctoral study from University of Bonn, Germany that was also funded by DAAD, Germany. In 2019, Imran received Penn Biomedical Postdoctoral fellowship for postdoctoral study at School of Dental Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, where he worked on oral delivery of plant made biopharmaceuticals using Chloroplast production system, in collaboration with Takeda, Japan. He joined Dr. McDonald/Nandi lab in 2021 at University of California, Davis, USA, as Assistant Project Scientist. His current research focus on development of platform technologies for bio-manufacturing on Mars to provide food and pharmaceuticals for colonists, funded by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA.
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.
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.
Aaron Berliner is a Bioengineering graduate student in the Arkin Laboratory at UC Berkeley/UCSF. He studied bioengineering, control theory, and synthetic and systems biology at Boston University. In 2012, he began working as a research associate at the NASA Ames Research Center on projects involving 3D printing, bioelectrochemistry, and astrobiology. In 2013, he started as a research scientist in the Life Sciences group of Autodesk Research in San Francisco. At Autodesk, Aaron’s work ran the gamut from bioprinting, software engineering, synthetic virology, and DNA origami until 2016 when he moved back to space biology. Forming a partnership between UC Berkeley, Autodesk, and NASA Ames, Aaron began construction on Crucible, an open-source reactor for space synthetic biology experiments until 2017 when he started as a graduate student with Adam Arkin. He enjoys playing with his Mars-in-a-jar reactors. Aaron helped author the STRI grant that launched CUBES and is an NSF graduate fellow. His alternative scientific interests are terraforming and radiation biology. Aaron likes whiteboards and dry erase markers and dirty models with clean math.
Mackenzie Jones received her B.S. in Botany from Utah Valley University. She is currently a graduate student at Utah State University working in the Crop Physiology Laboratory in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Plant Science. Her interests of study include plant nutrition, soil fertility, and nutrient cycling. For the CUBES effort, Mackenzie's research will focus on optimizing plant nutrition in controlled environments for long-term space travel.
Noah received a double B.S. in Biochemistry and Biology from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point in 2020. He is currently pursuing a Ph. D. in Plant Science as a graduate research assistant in the Crop Physiology Lab at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Noah's interests include optimizing hydroponics systems and plant nutrition for efficient production in closed systems. Outside of CUBES, he enjoys backpacking, geocaching, and flying general aviation airplanes.
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.
Patrick is a first-year student in the Chemical Engineering department at UC Davis, where he works in the McDonald-Nandi lab. He earned his BS in Chemical Engineering at UC Berkeley. Patrick joined CUBES because he is passionate about biotechnology and hopes to improve the safety and feasibility of space missions.
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.
Kevin earned a BS in Chemical Engineering with minors in Electrical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences from Michigan Technological University. He has a strong interdisciplinary background from his time working in a variety of industries. His PhD research involves the production of pharmaceuticals in transgenic plants within the scope of the NASA CUBES project.
Kylie Akiyama is a second-year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley majoring in bioengineering. She is especially interested in the field of synthetic biology and how we can utilize it in the context of space exploration. Kylie is currently within the FPSD division of CUBES, working to improve the group's capacity to metabolically engineer A. platensis for small molecule production.
Lauren Payne is a second year undergraduate student at Utah State University studying Plant Science. She interns at the USU Crop Physiology Lab, assisting graduate students with experiments involving plant growth conditions. In CUBES, she aids Noah Langenfeld with projects in nitrogen recycling and nutrient optimization in hydroponic systems.
Kim is a second-year undergraduate student studying Bioengineering. She is interested in the applications of engineering and science in space exploration. In CUBES, she will be working on exploring species of cyanobacteria and developing a pan-genome.
Divya is a third year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley majoring in Bioengineering. She screens Spirulina mutants as they are generated and help in the development of better transformation methods for this organism in FPSD.
Dexter is a first year Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering at UC Davis in the McDonald-Nandi Lab. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University, New York and his B.A. in Chemistry from University of Puget Sound, Washington through a Dual Degree Program. He is currently developing stable lines of transgenic lettuce, which express a parathyroid hormone fusion protein.
Jesse Delzio is a third year biochemical engineering undergraduate at the University of California, Davis. He began research with Dr. Somen Nandi and Dr. Karen McDonald 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 the McDonald-Nandi 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.
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.
Daphne is an undergraduate student at Purdue University studying Engineering Technology Education with minors in Computer Information Technology, Global Studies, Biological Sciences, Biotechnology, and Design & Innovation. She has previously been involved with the HHMI SEA-PHAGES project at Purdue University discovering and characterizing novel bacteriophages. Additionally, she has previously written and edited for a variety of science communication publications.
Within CUBES, she is working with Kyle Sanders on the Numerical Modeling team as a SULI intern, where she is using Julia to analyze relationships within a microbial ecosystem for implantation into the rhizosphere of O. sativa.
Skyler Friedline received his BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UC Santa Barbara in 2016. He is new to the fields of synthetic biology and microbial engineering but is motivated to learn quickly and make an impact. He began working as a research associate and lab manager in Adam Arkin's UC Berkeley Lab in 2019. He is interested in the development of microbes enabling closed loop living in space and on earth.
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.
Anderson Lee is a third-year undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying Bioengineering with a focus on Synthetic and Computational Biology. He is currently optimizing the production of biopharmaceuticals to be utilized during space travel. In previous companies, he has developed an ELISA procedure to determine the concentration of a tumor-detecting drug in biological samples and enhanced a mobile, quick diagnostic machine that scans for viruses. Previous to the Arkin Lab, he worked in Mohammed Mofrad's Cell and Biomechanics Laboratory at UC Berkeley where he used neural networks with backpropagation to predict a virus' host based on the genome of the virus.
In the future, he sees himself using synthetic biology to conquer problems inherent to the nature of space travel. He believes that technology already present in nature and perfected with evolution can be the key to send humans to other planets.
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.
Will is an undergrad at UC Berkeley studying molecular biology and math. He is captivated by the potential of synthetic biology and the application of modern methods of engineering to biology whether in microbes, mammalian cells, or multi-organism communities. In CUBES, Will models and designs microbial communities for agricultural enhancement. Previously, he has worked on metabolic engineering for the production of biofuels and commodity chemicals, directed evolution for the bioremediative degradation of plastic, and microRNA circuits and protein engineering for immunotherapy.
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.
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 and Dr. Somen Nandi 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.
Yongao (Mary) Xiong is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UC Davis in the McDonald-Nandi Lab (http://mcdonald-nandi.ech.ucdavis.edu). She received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Washington, Seattle. She has mastered in recombinant protein production, purification, and functional characterizations using plant systems. Her work includes the process optimization of transient protein expression in leaves/cells utilizing agrobacteria-mediated gene transfer, chromatography method development (resin and membrane-based), and bioassay design. In addition, she is investigating approaches to modify and control protein N-glycosylation profile through subcellular targeting, the incorporation of glycan processing enzyme inhibitors and in vitro enzymatic treatment. Mary examines the effects of N-glycosylation on protein properties and molecular structures. She has started working on fine tuning of downstream process engineering of the recombinant PTH-Fc and functional characterizations using a combination of label-free protein-based assay and cell-based assays.
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.
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.