ONR 70th Anniversary Edition Distinguished Lecture Series

ONR 70th Anniversary Edition Distinguished Lecture Series:
"Synthetic Biology: Scale-up and Defense Applications"

Presented by:
Dr. Christopher Voigt
Professor of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

ONR is recognized globally as a leader in its support of basic research in synthetic biology, having first realized the promise of this field over a decade ago to provide future naval forces with agile and organic approaches for surveillance, autonomous systems, materials production and enhancement of warfighter health and performance. Starting from nature’s successful designs for organisms with robust and diverse capabilities, biology is the ultimate engineering platform that forms the basis of synthetic biology.

This platform will define the 21st century, impacting health, society, the economy, the environment and military capabilities. It offers new production routes for difficult-to-synthesize chemical structures and advanced functional materials. Engineered cells also enable diverse potential applications, from living therapeutics and materials to field-deployed biosensors. Achieving these capabilities requires a design capacity for genetic engineering, which has lagged behind other disciplines.

ONR’s early and enduring investment in Dr. Christopher Voigt’s visionary research has enabled him to develop unique and powerful capabilities in synthetic biology, as well as to attract substantial subsequent support from other sponsors such as DARPA, the OSD NSSEFF program, and ARO.

Dr. Voigt will describe two key efforts that have accelerated the design-build-test cycle for synthetic biology. One is the development of the first programming language for living cells. This platform enables a designer to compose a genetic system by defining the desired sensory inputs, signal processing (circuits) and cellular functions (actuators) needed for an application. The process of transforming a design into a DNA sequence is performed computationally using techniques borrowed from electronic design automation (EDA).

Second, in a partnership with the Broad Institute, Voigt’s lab has established a foundry that focuses on the integration of design tools and rapid prototyping of genetic systems. He will describe the development of high-throughput technology as well as initial projects with industry and DoD labs.

Collectively, these technologies enable the engineering of cells for a broad range of medical, materials and sensing applications.

Event Details

This event is now closed. Watch a video of Dr. Voigt's lecture.

When: Friday, January 15, 2016 11 a.m. to Noon

Bobby Junker Executive Conference Center
14th Floor, One Liberty Center
875 North Randolph Street
Arlington, VA 22203

For any questions regarding this event, please email Dr. Sandra Chapman.

Download the flyer

About Dr. Christopher Voigt

Dr. Christopher VoigtDr. Voigt is a professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), co-director of the MIT Synthetic Biology Center and founder and chair of the MIT-Broad Foundry. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1998) and a PhD in biochemistry and biophysics from the California Institute of Technology (2002). Voigt completed his postdoctoral research in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley. His academic faculty career commenced as an assistant and associate professor at the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of California-San Francisco, after which he joined the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT as associate professor in 2011.

Professor Voigt holds adjunct faculty positions at UCSF and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; is an associate member of the Broad Institute; is an honorary fellow of Imperial College, UK; and a chemical scientist faculty member at the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. He established and is the inaugural editor-in-chief of the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, and is the founder and chair of the SEED Conference Series (Synthetic Biology, Engineering, Evolution & Design).

Voigt’s graduate and postdoctoral work was the first to apply computational protein design and network analysis to accelerate directed evolution in bacteria. This research has been widely cited, and contributed to the emergence of the (then) new field of “synthetic biology.”

As a young faculty member at UCSF, Voigt discovered and published methods for engineering E. coli bacteria, so they could record a projected image of light, which could be used to "print" complex biomaterials. He also discovered methods to engineer bacteria to serve as a smart delivery Vector in treating cancerous tumors.

His initial ONR project, funded in 2006, explored the potential for programming the classification-based (“nose-like”) sensing of various analytes into bacteria. Using modeling, experiments and engineering, Voigt quantified the natural combinatorial sensing power in E. coli, and translated those early results to research performed on an ONR MURI to engineer robust bacteria and other cells to possess multi-modal sensing, and actuation capabilities.

His ONR-funded research also led to development of the first programming language for cells, which formed the basis for his recently published and publicly available computer-aided design tool, Cello.

Voigt has published over 55 papers, an astonishing one-third of which have been published in the highest impact journals (Nature, Science, PNAS). Among Voigt’s honors and awards are 2015 National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship (OSD), Scientific American’s World Changing Ideas (2015), “Top 10 Technologies of 2009” (The Scientist); Packard Fellow (2007-2012); MIT Technology Review 35 (2006); NSF CAREER Award (2006-2011), Pew Scholar (2006-2009) and a Sloan Research Fellowship (2005).

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