IAS / School of Engineering Joint Lecture

High-throughput Strategies for the Generation of RNA-based Sensors and Controllers


Next generation sequencing (NGS) techniques coupled with advances in synthetic biology are transforming the scale and complexity at which researchers can design and build new systems. In this lecture, the speaker will describe recent examples in which NGS-based functional assays are being applied to transform our ability to generate tailored RNA-based gene control systems. Synthetic biology has provided many examples of functional RNA molecules that can act as sensors and controllers in living cells. However, scaling the design of new sensing-regulatory RNAs tailored to different systems has remained a key limitation in the field. Methods that leverage NGS have recently been developed to address these scaling challenges. For example, FACS-Seq and RNA-Seq assays have been developed to measure the activities of hundreds of thousands of functional RNAs simultaneously, allowing for efficient activity optimization and new insight into sequence-structure-function relationships. More recently, the speaker and her research group have developed a solution-based sensor selection pipeline that leverages Cleave-Seq assays and a robotics platform to automate and parallelize the process of generating new RNA-based biosensors to small molecule ligands. These advances will be described, along with applications of these tunable sensor-controllers in complex biological systems.


About the speaker

Prof. Christina Smolke received her PhD in Chemical Engineering from University of California, Berkeley in 2001 and joined California Institute of Technology as an Assistant Professor in 2003. In 2010, she moved to Stanford University and is currently the Professor (Research) of Bioengineering and, by courtesy, of Chemical Engineering there.

Prof. Smolke's research focuses on developing modular genetic platforms for programming information processing and control functions in living systems, resulting in transformative technologies for engineering, manipulating, and probing biological systems. She has pioneered the design and application of a broad class of RNA molecules, called RNA devices, that process and transmit user-specified input signals to targeted protein outputs, thereby linking molecular computation to gene expression.

Prof. Smolke is the Co-founder and CEO of Antheia and the Co-founder of Chimera Bioengineering. Her impact in advancing the frontiers of biotechnology has been recognized with numerous awards and nominations, including the AIMBE College of Fellows (2016), the US National Institute of Health Director’s Pioneer Award (2012-2017), the World Technology Award in Biotechnology (2009), and the MIT TR35 Top Young Innovators Award (2004). She has been listed in Nature’s 10 people who mattered in science in the year of 2015.

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