MeliBio welcomes Benjamin Mason, PhD who is joining the team as Associate Director of Microbial Development. The founding team is excited to have Ben on board to help MeliBio accelerate the development of the microbial fermentation platform for making honey without bees.
Ben has a significant industry experience working at Stanford’s Pringle Lab and Zymergen and a strong sense of urgency for sustainability issues that the World is facing.
To learn more about Ben and his inspiration to join MeliBio, read the interview below with Benjamin Mason, PhD.
Tell us about yourself, your education and career so far?
I grew up in Slippery Rock, a small town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I completed my BS in Biology and Environmental Science at Allegheny College before venturing south in search of the ocean. I earned my PhD in Marine Biology at the University of Miami, FL studying reproduction and sensory biology of reef-building corals and then spent several years as an NSF International Postdoctoral Fellow at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia, where I continued this research but also did some work on coral antimicrobial peptides and coral-associated microbes/microbiome regulation. When my fellowship came to an end in 2014, I moved to the Bay Area and joined the Pringle Lab in the Department of Genetics at Stanford, where I spent about a year developing genetic tools and transformation methods to enable gene editing in a sea anemone, an emerging model for understanding coral-algal symbiosis. In 2016, my Stanford network led me to Zymergen, where I spent the past 5.5 years, the first two as a Scientist developing genetic tools and engineering a gram positive bacteria, and the past 3.5 as the associate director & technical program lead of a client strain improvement program in E. coli.
What inspired you to join MeliBio?
Several things inspired me to join MeliBio:
1. The passion, excitement and vision of the founders, Aaron Schaller and Darko Mandich
2. The product. MeliBio honey is vegan honey made without bees but tastes and has the consistency of honey straight from the hive … BRILLIANT!
3. The opportunity to help revolutionize the honey industry, offer a sustainable alternative to traditional honey, and save native bee species
4. The science – the challenge of engineering and optimizing microbes to produce key ingredients in MeliBio honey and with broader applications in the food industry
What kind of impact are you looking to make from your new position?
I want to help Aaron and Darko make their vision a reality. I want to help build a team and create the strains and processes that allow us to bring vegan, bee-free honey to the world, revolutionize the honey industry, and offer a sustainable, less destructive alternative to traditional honey.
Everyone has their own special story around honey and bees, would you like to share yours?
My mom tells me that when I was about 1 ½ years old I was walking outside in the grass and stepped on a honeybee that was feeding on clover. I got stung and apparently was pretty angry at the bee, but my mom took me back outside to see the bees on the clovers and dandelions. She explained the important work that they were doing pollinating flowers/plants and that the bee was just protecting itself. From that day on I respected and understood the bee's role. Was I destined from an early age to end up at MeliBio? I don’t know, but I am certain that this experience and many like it that helped me learn about the natural world from an early age was responsible for my interest in biology, my education and career path, my concern for the well-being of this planet and sustainability.
Any message you would like to share with the World?
I think my message is more of my "hope" for the world and the future of our planet as it relates to climate change and sustainability.
For me, as I am sure for many of you, it has been devastating to watch the effects of climate change playing out in recent years - to witness the collapse of coral reefs that I studied and explored for much of my life; the disappearance of glaciers, fires and drought altering landscapes and destroying communities and wildlife, and rising seas swallowing coastlines, in some of the most beautiful and cherished places that I have had the fortune to live and visit. Now, with two small kids ages 3 and 6 months, the future and fate of our planet are of even heightened concern, and at times I feel an almost paralyzing despair when I consider the world that they will likely know and experience.
Despite these feelings, I cannot help but feel inspired and encouraged by what is happening in biotech here in the Bay Area but also around the country and the world - by the impressive number of companies not just working on, but attracting record investment and making rapid technical advances in the climate tech, food tech, agriculture and biomaterials space.
My hope is that everyone reading this (and, more importantly, everyone not reading this) exercise their power as consumers and act as ambassadors for this tech; that people do their part to be aware of emerging alternatives whether these be more sustainable plant and lab-based foods, agricultural practices or biomaterials; that people make informed choices, spread awareness and signal the strong demand and interest that I know exists. In doing so, I hope that we will see the rapid adoption of these sustainable alternatives, drive further investment in biotech and accelerate the transition away from current, environmentally destructive and unsustainable practices.