Emerging Applications of Molecular Programming in Biology and Nanotechnology

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
6:00 PM
POB 2.302
Free and open to the public

Researchers in a rapidly developing field called molecular programming exploit the properties of nucleic acids to construct biomolecular circuits that can evaluate logic expressions in test tubes, and to fabricate nanometer-scale structures with precisely-defined sizes and shapes. Since the basic tools of molecular programming are the information carriers of life, molecular networks composed of nucleic acids also offer a powerful platform through which to control the behavior of cells. In this talk, I will describe my efforts to use RNA as a synthetic biology tool to program living cells and as a building material to self-assemble complex nanostructures with useful applications. My work in synthetic biology is centered on a new class of RNA-based devices called toehold switches. Toehold switches activate gene expression in bacteria only when they detect a cognate trigger RNA with an arbitrary sequence. These biological devices provide an unprecedented combination of orthogonality, wide dynamic range, and programmability that enables them to evaluate complex logic expressions in vivo. My work in molecular self-assembly employs modular building blocks called RNA bricks. I will demonstrate how these short RNA transcripts can be used to construct nanostructures in vitro with prescribed sizes simply by specifying interactions between neighboring strands. These RNA nanostructures provide a potential means to control the spatial arrangement of elements inside cells for synthetic biology.

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Alexander Green

Alexander A. Green

Harvard University

Alexander Green obtained his B.A.Sc. in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto. He then pursued graduate studies in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University with Mark Hersam. At Northwestern, Dr. Green co-developed some of the first commercially scalable methods for producing carbon nanotubes and graphene with well-defined electronic and optical properties, and integrated these novel materials into electronic devices. Since obtaining his PhD, Dr. Green has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard in the labs of Peng Yin and Jim Collins. There he has applied concepts from molecular programming to develop new platforms to regulate gene expression, detect nucleic acids, and direct the assembly of matter. Dr. Green has co-authored 51 peer-reviewed journal articles that have accumulated over 3400 citations.