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Foundational Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is a field that applies rigorous engineering paradigms from electrical engineering and computer science (i.e. modularity, orthogonality, tunability, and composability) to genetic engineering. It aims to program living cells with novel functions such as Boolean operations, analog computing, signal integration, and event recording. These novel functions will enable sophisticated sense-and-respond adaptive therapies – medicines that can change behaviors in response to the disease condition. Combining synthetic biology with bioinformatics and machine learning enables us to identify ideal targetable disease signatures, explore a very large circuit design space, and reliably predict circuit performance.

Our lab is constantly thinking of the following questions:

1) What is the best balance between harnessing existing cellular programs (bio-inspired) and building new devices from the ground up?

2) How to most efficiently build computation devices (e.g., logic gates [Fig. 1], memory circuits) for biomedical applications?

3) How to not only build proof-of-concept circuits but also develop clinically actionable circuits?


Engineering biology is hard – our current capacity to program cells is like tweaking one line of code to a state-of-art operation system consisting of 100 million lines of codes. But the amount of impact this line of code makes is tremendous. It requires an interdisciplinary team to solve genetic engineering. If you have a passion for building things, there is definitely something for you in synthetic biology!

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