The Daniel I. C. Wang Lecture on the Frontiers of Biotechnology – 2010

“The Development of Cellulosic Biofuels”


Steven E. Koonin

Chris R. Somerville
Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy and Director of the Energy Biosciences Institute
UC Berkeley

Friday, November 19, 2010
3:00 p.m., 34-101
Reception at 2:30pm

Chris Somerville is a biochemist who has been recognized for his work on the biochemistry, cell biology, genomics and genetics of various aspects of plant and microbial growth and development.

He was one of the early advocates for the development of Arabidopsis as a model system to dissect plant growth and development and was the first chairperson of the Arabidopsis Genome Initiative, an international collaboration that completed the sequence of the first plant genome.  The majority of his research contributions have concerned the synthesis and modification of membrane and storage lipids, and the synthesis of polysaccharides.  Somerville and his collaborators characterized many of the genes and proteins involved in fatty acid desaturation and hydroxylation, and proposed the mechanism for desaturation and hydroxylation based on spectroscopy and protein engineering.  His recent work on polysaccharides has been largely focused on the use of live-cell imaging of single cellulose synthase complexes and cytoskeletal components to dissect the basic mechanisms of cellulose synthesis.

Somerville is the Director of the Energy Biosciences Institute, a research institute at UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign initiated with a $500M award from the energy company BP (  He is the Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy at UC Berkeley. He was a professor at Stanford University and director of the Carnegie Institution for Science from 1994-2007 and a professor at the Michigan State University DOE Plant Research laboratory from 1982-1993.  He has published more than 200 scientific papers and patents in plant and microbial genetics, genomics, biochemistry, and biotechnology.  He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, The Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Canada and has received numerous scientific awards including the Gibbs and Schull awards from the American Society of Plant Biologists, the Mendel Medal from the Genetics Society, the Hopkins medal from the Biochemical Society, the Khumo Award from the Plant Molecular Biology Society and most recently the Balzan Award which he shared with Elliot Meyerowitz (Caltech).  He cofounded three companies, Mendel Biotechnology, LS9 Inc, and Poetic Genetics.