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Multicellular synthetic biology: Understanding the design principles of intercellular communication

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Biologists have long sought to rationally engineer genetic regulatory networks for a variety of reasons. For instance, the basic science of understanding gene regulation has prospered due to our ability to intricately construct, perturb, and monitor gene networks in living cells. Further, synthetic biologists have designed a host of systems for practical biomedical and industrial applications. However, as synthetic biology pushes the limits of genetic engineering it is becoming increasing clear that synthetic multicellular systems will be required to accomplish tasks that are difficult for single cells or homogeneous colonies. In this talk, I will describe our lab’s recent efforts to better understand and engineer intercellular communication in multicellular bacterial systems. In particular, I will discuss how the network topologies of intercellular gene regulatory networks influence the spatiotemporal coordination of gene expression in synthetic microbial consortia. Further, I will present recent engineering work in which we designed and implemented a system that allows E. coli to asymmetrically and irreversibly differentiate into multiple cell types. Overall, our results point the way toward engineering synthetic “organisms” from the ground up.

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This talk is part of the CUSynBioSoc series.

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