Get to know Lori Giver, Ph.D., Chief Science and Sustainability Officer at Calysta
What was your first job? What did you study at university?
As an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to work during the summers at NASA (my dad spent his whole career there!). I studied extremophiles (microbes that live under extreme conditions) as a substitute for studying potential alien life forms. We carried out field research in Yellowstone National Park, Baja, and other fantastic locations. My undergrad degree was in Molecular Cell Biology from UC Berkeley, and I then achieved a PhD in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology from Indiana University. For my post-doc, I worked in the then-novel field of Directed Enzyme Evolution with Frances Arnold at Caltech.
Tell us more about your journey to becoming Chief Science and Sustainability Officer?
It’s a long and winding road! After my post-doc, I joined Maxygen, a start-up biotech company to help develop their enzyme engineering platform. That later became Codexis, and we expanded to strain engineering and systems biology. I left Codexis to join Calysta nine years ago when it became clear to many of us that that sugar is not the best feedstock for many bio-manufacturing processes. Here at Calysta, sustainability drives so much of what we do. We need to be able to measure and explain our process and the advantages of our technology in a clear way to our partners, that’s why my role has changed to focus on sustainability. In small companies there are opportunities to expand your role to fit new focuses and opportunities, so I’ve been on a crash course in sustainability metrics for the past year.
How does your scientific background and R&D experience influence your approach at work?
At the end of the day, scientists are data driven. I think having the facts helps with clear decision making, regardless of whether we’re looking at fermentation conditions, new product discussions, or planning budgets. Generally, I try to gather all the info I can and let that drive a unanimous decision.
What projects or decisions are you most proud of at Calysta?
Scale up! I recently had the opportunity to speak at a conference where I presented a video of our Calysseo plant in Chongqing and shared the news of the KSA plans. Everyone at these conferences speaks of the ‘valley of death’ and how hard it is for small companies to cross, but to be where we are is a real success story for us all.
What values do you believe are most important in your job role?
I think flexibility in small dynamic companies like Calysta is key. At heart, I’m a strain/enzyme engineer, who has done almost none of that in the past seven years or so! Instead, there have been opportunities to learn so much about areas I never thought I’d move into. I think it’s also important to care about all our team members. We’re all so invested in Calysta and give so much to accomplish our goals here. It’s important to me that everyone on the Calysta team is heard and valued.
Do you have any advice for someone aspiring to build a career in sustainability?
Start small and don’t get discouraged! There’s so much that needs to be done and as soon as you start learning about the magnitude of global emissions, it can seem hopeless or intimidating. But with enough innovative companies setting goals and meeting them it will add up, and they will all need specialists who can help in understanding and measuring exactly what those goals should be and how they are progressing, there’s plenty of opportunity.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
Much better now, I think, although my husband would beg to differ! Over the years I’ve started prioritizing my own time more. My sons are 14 and 17 so opportunities are getting scarce for family vacations! The whole family surfs (all much better than me) and my husband arranges fantastic surf trips for us with friends. We’ve gone to Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Hawaii, Canada, and are planning to get to Biarritz next year. It’s a great way for us to take a break from work and combine travel, fun and family time.