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Friday, November 10, 2017 at 2:30pm to 3:30pm
We welcome Dr. Amad (Mo) Khalil from Boston University. He is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Biomedical Engineering and an Associate Director of the Biological Design Center. He is also currently a Visiting Scholar at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
Epigenetics and Evolution in the Age of Synthetic Biology
Abstract: Cells use genetically-encoded molecular networks to process external information and execute sophisticated tasks, displaying precise computations that rival human-engineered systems. However, in addition to precision, biological systems can also be extraordinarily robust while simultaneously capable of rapid diversification and adaptation to create new functions when necessary. Our lab uses synthetic biology to examine and engineer the functions of living cells. By developing forward engineering and evolution technologies, we aim to provide systematic methods to decipher how cellular systems balance these seemingly contradictory functional goals and to create blueprints for engineering/evolving cells to carry out desired tasks. In this talk, I will first describe our efforts to explore and engineer epigenetic systems – i.e. the self-propagating molecular systems that drive and stably maintain distinct phenotypes / states in cells with identical genomes. Specifically, I will discuss the development of synthetic tools and circuits for controlling changes to chromatin and a second, unusual form of epigenetics, encoded in the conformations of prion proteins. Predictive engineering of these systems will expand the synthetic biology toolkit, enabling molecular memories and traits to be encoded in synthetic organisms, and provide new solutions for precise therapeutic intervention. Second, I will describe a new technology platform we developed for automated cell growth that enables individual control over large numbers of continuous cultures with arbitrary prescription of growth and selection environments. We propose this as a standardizing framework that can be configured by the user for diverse applications, ranging from laboratory evolution on cellular populations to characterization of cellular systems (natural or synthetic) in multidimensional environments.
Bio: Dr. Khalil's laboratory develops synthetic biology approaches to examine and engineer the functions of living cells, such as how they make decisions and communicate. He is recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), NIH New Innovator Award, NSF CAREER Award, DARPA Young Faculty Award, and a Hartwell Foundation Biomedical Research Award, and has received numerous awards for teaching excellence at both the Department and College levels. Mo was an HHMI Postdoctoral Fellow with Dr. James Collins at Boston University. He obtained his Ph.D. with Dr. Angela Belcher at MIT, and his B.S. (Phi Beta Kappa) from Stanford University.