Julius B. Lucks is Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University. After attending the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics for high school, he became an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he performed research in organic synthesis and the application of density functional theory to studying the electronic properties of atoms and molecules as a Goldwater Scholar. After graduating with a BS in Chemistry, he spent a summer working with the late Robert Parr before obtaining an M. Phil. in Theoretical Chemistry at Cambridge University as a Churchill Scholar with Nicholas Handy. As a Hertz Fellow at Harvard University, he researched problems in theoretical biophysics including RNA folding and translocation, viral capsid structure and viral genome organization, under David R. Nelson. As a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley in the laboratory of Adam P. Arkin, he engineered versatile RNA-sensing transcriptional regulators that can be easily reconfigured to independently regulate multiple genes, logically control gene expression, and propagate signals as RNA molecules in gene networks. With Arkin, Jennifer Doudna and Lior Pachter, he also lead the team that developed SHAPE-Seq, an experimental technique that utilizes next generation sequencing for probing RNA secondary and tertiary structures of hundreds of RNAs in a single experiment. This breakthrough and the many technologies that build off of this concept is now being used to uncover the role of RNA structure in regulating fundamental cellular processes across the genome.
Research in the Lucks group combines both experiment and theory to ask fundamental questions about the design principles that govern how RNAs fold and function in living organisms, how these principles can be used to engineer biomolecular systems, and how they can open doors to new medical therapeutics. Using a multidisciplinary perspective, the focus of his laboratory has been to address two related questions: how do RNA molecules fold inside cells to help coordinate gene expression processes?, and how can we use understanding of these phenomena to create engineered RNAs to control gene expression in an array of biotechnologies? His group creates new classes of programmable RNA regulators with protein-like dynamic ranges, and uses SHAPE-Seq to understand RNA folding dynamics in the cell. Recently, the group has become interested in how RNAs fold during transcription, and how RNA folding dynamics can be programmed to create new classes of decision making genetic switches. The group is working towards a vision of RNA engineering that incorporates RNA structure/function measurements with quantitative models to unlock the potential of RNA regulators for responsible applications of synthetic biology in a range of applications, from sustainable biomanufacturing to new molecular level technologies for water quality diagnostics.
Professor Lucks is also heavily invested in helping to train the next generation of scientists and engineers through his co-founding of the Cold Spring Harbor Synthetic Biology Summer Course and his roles as a founding board member of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium.
For more information, visit his website: http://luckslab.org/