BioE Seminar: “Epigenetics and Evolution in the Age of Synthetic Biology”

Seminar | April 19 | 12-1 p.m. | 290 Hearst Memorial Mining Building

 Ahmad Khalil, Boston University

 Bioengineering (BioE)

Spring 2017 Seminar Series

Wednesday, April 19
12noon - 1:00pm
290 Hearst Mining Building

“Epigenetics and Evolution in the Age of Synthetic Biology”

Ahmad (Mo) Khalil
Innovation Career Development Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Associate Director, Biological Design Center
Boston University

Visiting Scholar, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
Harvard University

Cells use genetically-encoded molecular networks to sense and respond to the changing environment. Our lab uses synthetic biology to study the function of these cellular networks, and to predictively engineer them for useful applications. While the synthetic approach has been used to explore a wide range of cellular functions, less has been done on the systems involved in establishing and interfacing with epigenetic processes. In this talk, I will discuss our efforts to apply synthetic biology to engineer epigenetic systems, which are important for expanding the repertoire of cellular responses and establishing the distinct cellular identities that make up multicellular organisms. Specifically, I will discuss the development of synthetic tools and systems for controlling: (1) molecular signatures and changes to chromatin to produce/program distinct gene expression outputs; and (2) an altogether different form of epigenetics, encoded in the self-propagating conformations of prion proteins. A broad goal of this work is quantitatively defining/controlling the molecular properties that underlie cellular responses via engineering. A newer, complementary goal in the lab is using engineering to quantitatively control environmental and selective conditions that can be imposed on organisms in the laboratory. I will discuss these new high-throughput technologies, and show how they can be applied to comprehensively map adaptive cellular phenotypes and evolve new biological functions.