Dr. Jonathan D. Trent

Dr. Jonathan D. Trent
Photographer: Michal Roche-Ben Ami

Dr. Jonathan D. Trent received his PhD in Biological Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and then spent six years in Europe at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Germany, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and the University of Paris at Orsay in France. He returned to the USA to work at the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine at Yale Medical School for two years before establishing a biotechnology group at Argonne National Laboratory. In 1998 he moved to NASA Ames Research Center to be part of NASA’s Astrobiology program and established the Protein Nanotechnology Group in 1999. 


For his early research in marine science, Trent worked on the development of open-ocean SCUBA techniques to study fragile pelagic microenvironments called “marine snow” (e.g., Science 1978, vol. 201, pp. 371-373). His postdoctoral research focused on molecular adaptations of organisms living in near-boiling sulfuric acid and led to some important discoveries (e.g., Nature 1991, vol. 354, pp. 490-493). While at NASA, he shifted his research focus to astrobiology to explore the physiological basis for life in extreme environments (PNAS 2003, vol. 100, pp. 15589-15594).  He also explored nanotechnology, using molecular recognition, self-assembly, and genetic engineering to create useful nano-scale devices, such as data storage devices and enzymes arrays (e.g., Nature Materials 2002, vol. 1, pp. 247-252).  In 2006, he received the Nano50 award for “innovation.” 


In 2007, with support from the two founders of Google, Dr. Trent began a project called “Sustainable Energy for Spaceship Earth.” This project led to his establishment of the NASA GREEN team to investigate Global Research into Energy and the Environment at Nasa.” For GREEN he invented OMEGA and from 2010 to 2014 led a multidisciplinary research team to test the feasibility of OMEGA with $10.8M in funding from NASA and the California Energy Commission.

In 2015, he found the OMEGA Global Initiative (OGI), a non-profit dedicated to promoting and facilitating the development of OMEGA systems worldwide to help drive the global transition to sustainable “blue-green” circular economies as described in his TED Global Talk


In addition to working at NASA, Dr. Trent is an Adjunct Professor in the Dept. of Biomolecular Engineering at University of California at Santa Cruz and in the Dept. of Biotechnology and Life Science at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in Japan.  He is also a lifetime Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. A brief overview of his career was recently presented in his TEDx Palo Alto talk.

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