McCormick Researchers Present at Synthetic Biology Conference

Professors, graduate students participate in sixth annual BioBricks Foundation Synthetic Biology Conference

Several professors and graduate students from Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering presented research recently at the sixth annual BioBricks Foundation Synthetic Biology Conference Series (SB6.0 Conference).

Mike Jewett

Held July 9 to 11 in London, the conference brought together some of the world’s foremost researchers in the field of synthetic biology, a relatively new field that seeks to design and build new biological systems and functions to solve problems in health, energy, materials synthesis, and other areas.

"Synthetic biology is a new approach for engineering biology by design. At its heart, this emerging discipline seeks to make biology easier to engineer and harness biology to serve society,” said Michael Jewett, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at McCormick and an SB6.0 co-organizer. “As we heard at SB6.0, this new paradigm for engineering biology is enabling a deeper understanding of living systems and opening the way to sustainable and renewable energy production, cost-effective and widely accessible programmable medicines and materials, and global health solutions.”

“Conferences like this give researchers the opportunity to build bridge across disciplines and to engage in frontier pushing research,” Jewett added. 

Milan Mrksich

In his plenary talk, “Engineering Biology for New Materials,” Northwestern’s Milan Mrksich discussed research in biomanufacturing and bio-responsive nanomaterials that is advancing the search for sustainable alternatives to traditional synthesis and manufacturing practices. These processes suggest an innovative role for synthetic biology in the synthesis and construction of materials that have been impractical—if not impossible—to produce by other means.

Mrksich is Henry Wade Rogers Professor, with appointments in biomedical engineering, chemistry, and cell and molecular biology.

Joshua Leonard, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at McCormick, presented “Engineering Cell-Based Devices for Design-Driven Medicine,” in which he discussed Modular Extracellular Sensor Architecture, a platform developed in his lab that enables the engineering of novel cellular functions. This research could be a step toward the construction of sophisticated cell-based therapeutics and transformative tools for fundamental biological research.

Josh LeonardSeveral McCormick PhD candidates gave poster presentations at the conference. Nicole Daringer and Rachel Dudek, both graduate students in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, gave two talks with Leonard: “Modular Cell-Based Biosensors for Dynamically Imaging Immune Function in Vivo” and “A Platform for Synthetic, Orthogonal, Intercellular Communication via Synthetikines.” 

Andrew Scarpelli, a PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Biological Sciences (IBiS) program, presented “Dynamic Evolution of Heterogeneous Plasmid Ensembles During Bacterial Growth” with Leonard and partners from the University of Exeter.

Erik Carlson, a PhD candidate in Jewett’s lab in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, chaired a "Lightning Talk" session and presented his work on "Use of 23S Ribosomal RNA Circular Permutants to Study Ribosome Biogenesis."

The Twitter feed of the conference was very active with one comment capturing the breadth of topics covered: "Loving #sb6conf and its marvelous mix of talks: from biology to sociology, through art, physics, fashion, etc."

The SBx.0 Conference Series is sponsored The BioBricks Foundation, a public-benefit organization creating a community of citizens dedicated to advancing synthetic biology.