Reprogramming biological form and function: the dark matter of biology
September 19, 2017

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The seminar speakers are:

Michael Levin, professor in the Biology department at Tufts, holds the Vannevar Bush endowed Chair and serves as director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University. Recent honors include the Scientist of Vision award and the Distinguished Scholar Award. His group's focus is on understanding the biophysical mechanisms that implement decision-making during complex pattern regulation, and harnessing endogenous bioelectric dynamics toward rational control of growth and form.

The lab's current main directions are:

  • Understanding how somatic cells form bioelectrical networks for storing and recalling pattern memories that guide morphogenesis;
  • Creating next-generation AI tools for helping scientists understand top-down control of pattern regulation (a new bioinformatics of shape); and
  • Using these insights to enable new capabilities in regenerative medicine and engineering.

Prior to college, Michael Levin worked as a software engineer and independent contractor in the field of scientific computing. He attended Tufts University, interested in artificial intelligence and unconventional computation. To explore the algorithms by which the biological world implemented complex adaptive behavior, he got dual B.S. degrees, in CS and in Biology and then received a PhD from Harvard University. He did post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School (1996-2000), where he began to uncover a new bioelectric language by which cells coordinate their activity during embryogenesis. His independent laboratory (2000-2007 at Forsyth Institute, Harvard; 2008-present at Tufts University) develops new molecular-genetic and conceptual tools to probe large-scale information processing in regeneration, embryogenesis, and cancer suppression.

Ed Boyden is a professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute. He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, which develops tools for analyzing and repairing complex biological systems such as the brain, and applies them systematically to reveal ground truth principles of biological function as well as to repair these systems. These technologies include expansion microscopy, which enables complex biological systems to be imaged with nanoscale precision, and optogenetic tools, which enable the activation and silencing of neural activity with light, amongst many other innovations. He co-directs the MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering, which aims to develop new tools to accelerate neuroscience progress.

Laurie Boyer

Laurie A. Boyer earned her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Her graduate work focused on dissecting the biochemical mechanisms of chromatin remodeling enzymes. Laurie received the “Outstanding Graduate Student Award” for her thesis work. She then joined the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, MA as a postdoctoral fellow where she pioneered the development of high-throughput platforms for genome wide analysis of transcription factors and chromatin regulators in stem cells, opening the field of stem cell genomics. In 2006, Laurie was recognized as one of the world’s 50 top leaders in research by Scientific American for her innovative work in dissecting the core transcriptional regulatory circuitry in human ESCs. In 2007, Dr. Boyer joined the Biology Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is an Associate member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. In 2015, she was also recruited as an Associate Professor to the Department of Biological Engineering. The Boyer lab investigates the gene regulatory mechanisms that coordinate lineage commitment. Dr. Boyer has presented her work around the world and has received numerous awards including a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, the Smith Family Foundation for Excellence in Biomedical Research, and Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Adam Cohen is in the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Physics at Harvard and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Current research in the Cohen Lab focuses on new approaches to imaging brain function. His work combines protein engineering, cell biology, advanced instrumentation, and development of computational methods. Cohen has also founded a biotechnology startup company, Q-State Biosciences, dedicated to applying stem cell technology and advance imaging tools toward finding better treatments for neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

James J. Collins is the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science and Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT, as well as a Member of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences & Technology Faculty. He is also a Core Founding Faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and an Institute Member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. His research group works in synthetic biology and systems biology, with a particular focus on using network biology approaches to study antibiotic action, bacterial defense mechanisms, and the emergence of resistance. Professor Collins' patented technologies have been licensed by over 25 biotech, pharma and medical devices companies, and he has helped to launch a number of companies, including Sample6 Technologies, Synlogic and EnBiotix. He has received numerous awards and honors, including a Rhodes Scholarship, a MacArthur "Genius" Award, an NIH Director's Pioneer Award, as well as several teaching awards. Professor Collins is an elected member of all three national academies – the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine – as well as the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors.

Donald E. Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., is the Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children's Hospital, and Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He received his B.A., M.A., M.Phil., M.D. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Ingber is a pioneer in the field of biologically inspired engineering, and at the Wyss Institute, he currently leads a multifaceted effort to develop breakthrough bioinspired technologies to advance healthcare and to improve sustainability. His work has led to major advances in mechanobiology, tumor angiogenesis, tissue engineering, systems biology, nanobiotechnology and translational medicine. Through his work, Ingber also has helped to break down boundaries between science, art and design.

Nadia Rosenthal  is Scientific Director of The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor. She also holds a Chair in Cardiovascular Science at Imperial College London. She was awarded a PhD from Harvard Medical School, where she later directed a biomedical research laboratory, then established and headed the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) campus in Rome. She was Founding Director of the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University, Melbourne and founded EMBL Australia as its Scientific Head. She has trained over 70 undergraduate, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows in her laboratory. She is an EMBO member, Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences, the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Science, and was an Australia Fellow. Professor Rosenthal is a global leader in the field of regenerative medicine. Her research has led to significant advances in the development of novel gene and cell-based therapies for muscle ageing and heart disease.

Leonard Zon is the Grousbeck Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Director of the Stem Cell Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Zon received his B.S. in chemistry and natural sciences from Muhlenberg College (1979) and his M.D. from Jefferson Medical College (1983). He subsequently did an internal medicine residency at New England Deaconess Hospital (1986) and a fellowship in medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1989). His postdoctoral research was in Stuart Orkin’s laboratory (1990). Dr. Zon is internationally-recognized for his pioneering work in stem cell biology and cancer genetics. He has been the preeminent figure in establishing zebrafish as an invaluable genetic model for the study of the blood and hematopoietic development. He is founder and former president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research and chair of the Executive Committee of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. In 2005, he completed a term as President of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. That same year, Dr. Zon was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.  In 2008, Dr. Zon was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In 2010, Dr. Zon was awarded the E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize from American Society of Hematology. In 2013, Dr. Zon received the ISEH Donald Metcalf Lecture Award. Other recent awards include the 2014 Boston Children’s Hospital Post-Doctoral Association Mentoring Award and the National Cancer Institute’s Alfred G. Knudson Award (2015).