University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative > SynBio Forum: Prof Michael Jewett and Prof Andrew Ellington

SynBio Forum: Prof Michael Jewett and Prof Andrew Ellington

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Talks that focus on cell-free technologies, engineering and directed evolution of gene expression and frugal, accessible science applications – from two of the most exciting speakers in the field.

Talks will be followed by a dinner buffet and drinks reception

“Repurposing ribosomes for synthetic biology”

Michael Jewett, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University

Abstract Imagine a world in which we could adapt biology to manufacture any therapeutic, material, or chemical from renewable resources, both quickly and on demand. Industrial biotechnology is one of the most attractive approaches for addressing this need, particularly when large-scale chemical synthesis is untenable. Unfortunately, current approaches to engineering organisms remain costly and slow. This is because cells themselves impose limitations on biobased product synthesis. It is difficult to balance intracellular fluxes to optimally satisfy a very active synthetic pathway while the machinery of the cell is functioning to maintain reproductive viability. Further, chemical reactions take place behind a selective barrier, the cell wall, which limits sample acquisition, monitoring, and direct control. In addition, cells are adapted to a relatively simple chemical operating system (i.e., a few common sugars, 20 amino acids), which presents researchers a limited set of accessible molecules with which to work.

In this presentation, I will discuss my group’s efforts to overcome these limitations and widen the aperture of the traditional model of biotechnology. In one direction, we seek to create a new paradigm for engineering biocatalytic systems using cell-free biology. In another area, we are catalyzing new directions to repurpose the translation apparatus for syntheticbiology. Our new paradigms for biochemical engineering are enabling a deeper understanding of why nature’s designs work the way they do, as well as opening the way to novel biobased products that have been impractical, if not impossible, to produce by other means.

“Directed Evolution of Translation”

Andrew Ellington, Professor of Molecular Biosciences, Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract In contrast to in vitro translation where it is possible to compose, adjust and engineer cell-free systems in a rational way, cells tend to be a bit more messy. To that end, we have employed directed evolution to coerce and cajole cells into accepting alterations to one of their most cherished possessions, the genetic code.

Dr. Ellington’s lab works centers on the development of nucleic acid circuitry for point-of-care diagnostics, on accelerating the evolution of proteins and cells through the introduction of novel chemistries, and using orthogonal control systems to engineer complex organisms. DNA circuits based on strand exchange reactions and capable of executing embedded algorithms have proven to be useful tools for creating diagnostic assays for a variety of purposes. Translation engineering centers on the introduction of novel amino acids into proteins that have the capability to base-pair, and is being pursued using a variety of techniques, including directed evolution, computational design, and high-throughput synthesis. Finally, we have developed operating systems that can work between and across bacterial and eukaryotic domains, including tools to directly synthesize operons, enable facile horizontal transfer, and edit genomes, and are interested in how such tools can be used to engineer cellular consortiums, including biofilms and plants.

This talk is part of the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative series.

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