Timothy Lu

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Lu, Timothy

Tim Lu, M.D., Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor leading the Synthetic Biology Group in the Research Laboratory of Electronics and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT. He is a core member of the MIT Synthetic Biology Center and a co-founder of Sample6 Technologies, a Boston-based company that is delivering a revolutionary microbial diagnostic based on synthetic-biology-derived technologies.

Tim’s research at MIT focuses on engineering integrated memory and computational circuits in living cells using analog and digital principles, applying synthetic biology to tackle important medical and industrial problems, and building living biomaterials that heterogeneously integrate biotic and abiotic functionalities.

Thu July 11 | 2:00 - 4:00 | Parallel Session
ABSTRACT: Engineering Analog and Digital Computation and Memory in Living Systems

Natural biological systems incorporate both living and non-living components to achieve a diversity of functions. For example, bone is composed of osteoclasts and osteoblasts which can sense external signals and remodel the extracellular matrix to change mechanical characteristics. Bacterial biofilms synthesize proteins, nucleic acids, and polysaccharides to build hydrated extracellular matrices that protect them from outside insults.    

Inspired by natural systems and leveraging the tools of synthetic biology, we present our efforts to engineer living biomaterials that incorporate living cells containing synthetic gene circuits with non-living extracellular materials. Central to this idea is the ability to endow the cellular aspects of living biomaterials with novel computational functions. Here, we describe scalable frameworks for constructing synthetic gene networks that implement digital and analog computation paradigms and integrated memory devices. Digital systems are useful for performing cellular decision-making and logic and can be constructed with concomitant DNA-encoded memory using libraries of orthogonal recombinases. Analog systems are useful for achieving wide-dynamic-range biosensing and complex mathematical functions. We shall present our efforts to create analog circuit motifs that perform wide-dynamic-range logarithmic transformations, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and power laws.    

Ultimately, our goal with these platforms is to integrate synthetic gene circuits in living cells with abiotic materials to build heterogoenous living biomaterials with the ability to sense and respond to environmental conditions, self-assemble multiscale structures with tunable mechanical properties, repair themselves, and achieve new interfaces between living and non-living systems.