Ahmad (Mo) Khalil is the Dorf-Ebner Distinguished Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and the Founding Associate Director of the Biological Design Center at Boston University. He is also a Visiting Scholar at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and Co-Director of a NIH/NIGMS T32 PhD Training Program in synthetic biology. His research is interested in how molecular circuits enable cellular functions, such as decision-making, computation, and epigenetic memory. His team develops synthetic biology and prospective evolutionary approaches to study the function and evolution of gene and epigenetic regulatory systems. He is recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), DoD Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship, NIH New Innovator Award, NSF CAREER Award, DARPA Young Faculty Award, and Hartwell Foundation Biomedical Research Award, and he has received numerous awards for teaching excellence at both the Department and College levels. Mo was an HHMI Postdoctoral Fellow with Dr. James Collins at Boston University. He obtained his Ph.D. from MIT and his B.S. (Phi Beta Kappa) from Stanford University.
My research is interested in how molecular “circuits” enable core cellular functions, such as signal processing, computation, and epigenetic memory. My team develops and applies two complementary approaches to discover the design principles of genetic circuits, and to enable their purposeful manipulation for biomedical applications, such as cell-based therapies and devices. First, we apply synthetic rational approaches, in which we construct regulatory circuits in eukaryotic cells from the bottom-up. This allows us test many different circuits designs, with precisely tailored biochemical parameters, to identify which circuits are sufficient to program regulatory function and explore why a circuit may have been selected to perform a certain function. We have pioneered this approach to design and study molecular circuits that control gene regulation and epigenetic memory in eukaryotic cells, with important implications for biotechnology and therapeutics. Although this approach can illuminate the general principles of circuit design, it doesn’t tell us which architectures nature chooses from the vast theoretical space. Thus, second, we develop methods for prospective evolution of circuits, to sample from the theoretical space using processes that mimic nature’s design strategy. A central pillar of this effort is “eVOLVER”, a highly-flexible continuous culture system we invented that enables large-scale automation of growth, testing, and evolution of cellular systems in precisely-controlled conditions. Based on DIY open-source principles (www.evolver.bio), eVOLVER has been adopted by many labs across the world, and is fostering decentralized development of new laboratory hardware tools, enabling collaborative efforts across labs, and accelerating the pace of engineering designer biomolecules and cellular systems.