RNA Synthetic Biology – Towards an Era of RNA Design for Biology and Global Health


Wednesday, April 26, 2023 - 9:00am


Engr II 1519


Professor Julius Lucks - Northwestern University

Abstract: RNAs are emerging as a powerful substrate for engineering cellular behavior. As with all biomolecules, RNA function is intimately related to its structure, since RNA can adopt structures that selectively modulate gene expression. Central questions in biology and bioengineering then are: How do RNAs fold inside cells?; and How can we engineer these folds to control gene expression? In this talk, I will present our work at the interface of these two questions and share results that are beginning to uncover design principles for understanding natural RNAs and engineering RNAs for an array of applications in biomanufacturing and human health. I will focus on our recent work in understanding how riboswitch RNAs make regulatory decisions ‘on the fly’ during the process of transcription, how we can use riboswitches as biosensors, and our recent development of a new synthetic biology biosensing platform that allows rapid, field-deployable diagnostics for a range of compounds important to our health and the environment.

Bio: Julius B. Lucks is Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at Northwestern University. Lucks received his PhD in chemical physics from Harvard University and transitioned to synthetic biology as a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley. He is a leader in RNA research and synthetic biology,
focusing on developing technologies that tackle global challenges, most recently in the area of global water insecurity. Professor Lucks has been recognized with a number of awards including a DARPA Young Faculty Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, an ONR Young Investigator Award, an NIH New Innovator Award,
an NSF CAREER award, the ACS Synthetic Biology Young Investigator Award, a Camille-Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award, a finalist for the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, named to the college of fellows in the American Institute of Medical and Biomedical Engineers, and most recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in biology. He also leads the first NSF graduate training program in synthetic biology, is a founding member of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium, and co-founded the Cold Spring Harbor Synthetic Biology Summer Course. He is also a co-founder of Stemloop, Inc. which aims to use cell free biosensing technology to empower people with information about the health of themselves and their environment.

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