Scientific Board

Steven Benner, PhD, scientific consultant, is currently the founder and President of the Foundation For Applied Molecular Evolution, Dr. Benner received his PhD in Chemistry from Harvard University after graduating in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University. In 1991, he helped found evolutionary bioinformatics, launched one of the first web-based bioinformatics servers with Gaston Gonnet, generated the first naturally organized protein sequence databases, and helped develop the MasterCatalog that generated ca. $4 million in sales. Dr Benner established paleomolecular biology, where researchers resurrect ancestral proteins from extinct organisms for study in the laboratory. He invented dynamic combinatorial chemistry, combining ideas from molecular evolution, enzymology, analytical chemistry, and organic chemistry to generate a strategy to discover small molecule therapeutic leads. Dr. Benner initiated synthetic biology as a field : the Benner group was the first to synthesize a gene for an enzyme, and used organic synthesis to prepare the first artificial genetic systems, with outcomes actually applied in the therapy of HIV and hepatitis B & C. These systems also support the first artificial chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution. Along his career, Dr. Benner was distinguished with many awards among which : the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, the Anniversary Prize from the Federation of European Biochemical Societies in 1993, the Nolan Summer Award in 1998, the B. R. Baker Award in 2001, and the Sigma Xi Senior Faculty Award 2005.

Jim Spain, PhD, scientific consultant, is currently a Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Spain received his PhD in microbiology from The University of Texas and then studied the biodegradation of pesticides in the marine environment for five years as a post doctoral fellow and research scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Marine Environmental Research Laboratory. Prior to joining Georgia Tech Dr. Spain directed the Environmental Biotechnology research program at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Panama City, Florida where he studied the biodegradation of synthetic organic compounds in the environment. Dr. Spain works at the interface between basic microbiology research and practical applications to solve environmental problems. His research interests in environmental biotechnology include : discovery and construction of bacteria for degradation of organic pollutants ; evolution and adaptation of microbial communities ; distribution, persistence, and biodegradation of chemical pollutants in soil and water ; photobiological hydrogen production by cyanobacteria ; and discovery of biocatalysts for green chemistry synthesis of novel materials. Dr. Spain is a former editor for Applied and Environmental Microbiology and has published widely on the biodegradation and biosynthesis of organic compounds. He consults regularly with bioremediation companies and has discovered a number of novel microorganisms able to biodegrade pollutants previously thought to be recalcitrant.

Valérie de Crécy, PhD, scientific consultant, was trained as a bacterial geneticist at the Pasteur Institute (Paris) and the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda). She has worked in industrial settings (at Aventis and a consultant for a French Biotech company) and in academic settings at The Scripps Research Institute and recently at the Dpt of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida. Her work has covered many aspects of microbial metabolism (primary, secondary and regulation) and lead to around forty publications. In recent years she has focused on combining comparative genomics with experimental validation to identify novel genes and on using experimental evolution protocols to adapt bacteria to new metabolic constraints.

Thomas Lyons, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, is a former faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Florida. Dr. Lyons is also a current fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution (FfAME). He received his PhD in chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles where he studied the relationship between the structure of a protein and its function, with an emphasis on how changes in the structure/function relationship can led to disease states. He then did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Missouri, Columbia where he studied the chemistry and genetics of nutrient uptake in microorganisms and how environmental changes alter global patterns of gene transcription. As a faculty member at the University of Florida, Dr. Lyons specialized in studying a new and largely uncharacterized family of receptors called PAQRs that can be found in nearly all organisms. He continues this research at FfAME. Dr. Lyons’ research falls into two main categories. The first involves study the role of these receptors in fungal physiology, with particular emphasis on figuring out how these receptors can be manipulated to control fungal growth. The second category involves the use of a yeast-based functional assay system to study the pharmacology of human PAQR receptors, several of which are tightly linked to pathological states such as type II diabetes. Dr. Lyons’ expertise spans the disciplines of biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology and genetics.