Jonathan Trent invented OMEGA to grow oil-producing algae on municipal wastewater and leads the multidisciplinary OMEGA team to test the feasibility of the OMEGA concept. Trent’s previous research focused on astrobiology and nanotechnology using extremophiles. Extremophiles are organisms adapted to live in the most extreme environments on Earth. His studies of their lifestyle and adaptations have provided insight into how extremophies adapt to live in near-boiling sulfuric acid and how their protein structures can be used to construct robust, self-assembling, genetically versatile tools for nanotechnology. His nanotechnology has been applied to developing enzymes arrays to access the sugars in cellulose for making biofuels.
After receiving his Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Trent spent six years 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 United States 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 began work at NASA's Ames Research Center to be part of NASA’s Astrobiology program and established the Protein Nanotechnology Group in 1999. In addition to working at NASA, he is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. In 2006, Trent received the Nano50 award for innovation in nanotechnology. His work on biofuels was initially supported by Google.com and is currently supported by the California Energy Commission and NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.