Pamela Silver is currently a professor of biochemistry and systems biology at Harvard Medical School. As we celebrate all things solar this month, we have featured this important scientist for her work re-programming cells to work better and harder; specifically plant cells and their ability to capture and use energy from the sun!
As a child, Silver showed an early interest in math and science and chose to pursue a B.A. in Chemistry from the University of California, Santa Cruz and eventually a PhD in Biological Chemistry from University of California, Los Angeles. Over the span of her career, Silver has studied cell and systems biology. She is one of the founders of the emerging field of synthetic biology and helped establish the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.With her research, she seeks to re-program both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells to act as sensors, memory devices, and bio-computers in an organism.
Although a great deal of Silver’s work is with novel therapies for humans and livestock, she can’t ignore concerns about our planet’s need to adapt to increasing amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. Using her knowledge in synthetic biology, Silver partnered with Daniel Nocera, a leading Harvard researcher in renewable energy and biological systems, to see if they could re-program cells to increase efficiency of photosynthetic rates and carbon fixation in plants. Out of this collaboration came what they call the ‘bionic leaf.’ This synthetic leaf is able to convert solar energy into fuel, through a process using water and metabolically-engineered bacteria, as efficiently as natural plants! Current research is modifying the design to increase efficiency and energy storage. Read more about this research and Dr. Silver’s Lab here.
Unsurprisingly, this work has been supported by grants from a number of top organizations such as NIH, DARPA, DOD, DOE, NSF, and more. She has been named one of the top 20 Global Synthetic Biology Influencers and has received numerous awards for her work. The use of renewable energy like solar and wind to combat climate change has long been touted as a necessary adaptation, and Silver believes that understanding biology will be key to making the world a better place for future generations.