Chennai Mathematical Institute


3:30 pm, Seminar Hall
CMI Silver Jubilee Lecture
The watchmaker's apprentice: building a synthetic genetic oscillator with parts borrowed from nature

Mukund Thattai
National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.


Richard Dawkins writes of evolution as a 'blind watchmaker', paradoxically capable of generating complicated entities through a process of random variation and natural selection. Synthetic biology works in the opposite direction, to design and construct complicated devices with desired properties by borrowing parts from the watchmaker's toolkit. This design process is very much an art, and failed devices are common -- new experimental and theoretical approaches will be required before synthetic biology can mature into a true engineering discipline. I will first mention a few key success stories in which "circuits" like amplifiers, flip-flops, and oscillators have been built by inserting a handful of genes into the bacterium E. coli. I will then present our own work on using engineering principles to design, build and test cell-to-cell communication systems. Finally, I will show how we used an iterative design process, going from simple to complex circuits, to successfully build single-cell genetic oscillators that synchronise with one another by exchanging chemical signals.