Individual Members

  • Mark Blenner

    My research group addresses big problems in sustainability, human health, national defense, and space exploration – using synthetic biology, metabolic engineering, genomics & systems biology, and protein engineering. We are most interested in derisking and speeding up cell line development. We work mostly in eukaryotic systems (non-model yeast and mammalian cells) as well as bacteria.

  • Jeffrey Gralnick

    Jeffrey Gralnick is a bacterial physiologist and geneticist who earned his PhD in Bacteriology with Diana Downs at University of Wisconsin – Madison. He began working with the environmental bacterium Shewanella oneidensis as a postdoc at Caltech with Dianne Newman. In 2005 he started his lab at the University of Minnesota BioTechnology Institute focusing on extracellular electron transfer in environmental bacteria that make a living by transforming redox reactive metals. His lab uses synthetic biology to both engineer and understand these usual microbes.

  • Mark Mimee

    Mark Mimee is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. His interest in microbial life began in Montreal, Canada, where he completed his Bachelor of Science in Microbiology & Immunology at McGill University. Inspired by the nascent field of synthetic biology, Mark pursued studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, completing his PhD in Microbiology with Dr. Timothy Lu as an HHMI International Student Fellow and a Qualcomm Innovation Fellow. His research focuses on developing strategies to precisely engineer the activity and composition of the microbiota. His long-term vision is to implement these technologies to chart new basic and translational studies to exploit the microbiota for human health.

  • Sam Weiss Evans

    Sam’s work focuses on the governance of security concerns in emerging research technology, especially biology. He studies and actively engages with a range of communities building new approaches to the identification and governance of security concerns, including US and British governments, the international Genetically Engineered Machines Competition, DARPA, and the United Nations Institute on Disarmament Research.

  • Blake Simmons

    Dr. Simmons is the Director of the Biological Systems and Engineering Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ( He also serves as the Chief Science and Technology Officer and Vice-President of the Deconstruction Division at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (, a DOE Office of Science funded project tasked with the development and realization of next-generation “drop-in” biofuels and bioproducts produced from sustainable, non-food lignocellulosic biomass. He is also the Project Management Lead for the DOE Agile BioFoundry (

  • Ian Wheeldon

    Dr. Wheeldon is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). He is also the director of UCR’s Center for Industrial Biotechnology. Dr. Wheeldon received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University in 2009 and completed two years of postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. He received a Master’s of Applied Science from the Royal Military College of Canada, and a Bachelor’s of Applied Science from Queen’s University, Canada. Dr. Wheeldon’s laboratory focuses on synthetic biology for chemical synthesis.

  • Tara Deans

    Dr. Tara Deans received her PhD from Boston University in Biomedical Engineering. Following her postdoctoral training at Johns Hopkins University, she became an Assistant Professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Utah. Currently, Dr. Deans runs an applied mammalian synthetic biology laboratory where her lab focuses on building novel genetic tools to study the mechanisms of stem cell differentiation for the purpose of directing their cell fate decisions. Recently, Dr. Deans received three prestigious awards to support this area of research: the NSF CAREER Award, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Young Investigator Award, and the NIH Trailblazer Award. In addition to her research, Dr. Deans was recently named a STEM Ambassador in the STEM Ambassador Program (STEMAP) at the University of Utah to engage underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

  • Elizabeth Pitts

    Elizabeth A. Pitts is an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Composition, Literacy, Pedagogy, and Rhetoric program. She received her PhD in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media from North Carolina State University with a minor in Genetic Engineering and Society, and she also holds a BA and MA in English from Georgetown University.

    Elizabeth’s research blends rhetorical theory, organizational studies, and science studies to examine how technologies influence the nature of professional work and professional identity. Her current book project offers insights into a movement to make the coding of DNA as pervasive as the coding of software. By drawing parallels between the composition of genetically engineered organisms and the composition of persuasive speech and writing, the book facilitates humanistic inquiry into the material practices undertaken in laboratories.

    Elizabeth enjoys interdisciplinary collaboration and has co-authored with geneticists, ecologists, and policy scholars. Her work is informed by her decade of experience as a professional writer and speechwriter at the White House, the US Department of Education, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

  • David Nielsen

    My research has been in the area of biotechnology for 18 years, the last 13 of which has been focussed on metabolic engineering as well as synthetic biology. We are interested in developing novel pathways and strains for the bioproduction of value added chemicals, as well as new tools for improving such efforts. Current projects are focussed on engineering new pathways for non-natural aromatic chemicals, application of rational engineering and adaptive laboratory evolution to improve strain tolerance, engineering cyanobacteria for the photosynthetic production of biofuels and biochemicals, development of tools for genetic engineering in cyanobacteria (e.g., new plasmids and promoter systems, CRIPSR-based gene editing tools, markerless recombineering methods, etc.), and the engineering of and investigation of synthetic microbial communities.

  • James Chappell

    Our lab focuses on understanding how the biomolecule RNA can be designed to create synthetic regulators of gene expression—allowing for the manipulation of natural cellular processes to elicit deeper biological understanding and for the engineering of new synthetic cellular functions. As such our lab focuses both on the creation of new gene regulatory tools and their application.

  • Robert Egbert

    Dr. Robert Egbert (Rob) is a staff scientist in the Biological Sciences Division at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Dr. Egbert is an expert in bacterial genetic circuit design and genome engineering. He received dual-BS degrees in electrical engineering and Korean at Brigham Young University, a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Washington working with Eric Klavins, and a joint appointment as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with Adam Arkin. He currently leads a DOE program in Secure Biosystems Design on novel genome remodeling approaches to control the persistence of engineered functions in the environment, is Integration Lead for a PNNL-led team for the DARPA Friend or Foe program, and is Co-PI for data-driven synthetic biology within the DARPA Synergistic Discovery and Design program. Dr. Egbert is also the Science Lead for an PNNL internal investment in synthetic biology and biosecurity. Outside of work, Rob loves adventures with his wife and three children: swimming, kayaking, and river rafting in lakes and rivers of the mountain West; backpacking in the Pacific Northwest, Utah red rocks, and Canadian Rocky Mountains; and pinball. Rob also enjoys playing competitive ultimate frisbee.

  • Marcella Gomez

    Marcella M. Gomez is an assistant professor at UC Santa Cruz in the department of Applied Mathematics. She received her PhD from Caltech in 2015 and a B.S. from UC Berkeley in 2009; both degrees in Mechanical Engineering. Her research interests include a dynamical systems and control theoretic approach to synthetic and systems biology.

  • Alessandra Eustáquio

    Alessandra has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy of the University of Illinois at Chicago since August 2015. She also holds an appointment with the Center for Biomolecular Sciences. The Eustaquio laboratory aims to contribute to drug discovery and development from natural products. The Eustaquio lab uses open-source bioinformatics tools to predict the biosynthetic potential of bacteria based on their genome sequences. We then carry out genetic engineering to activate expression of silent genes and obtain the encoded natural products. We are also interested in developing synthetic biology tools to facilitate access to natural and engineered compounds. Before joining the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Alessandra was a Principal Scientist at Pfizer, Medicinal Chemistry, Natural Products group. Prior to that, she had done postdoctoral training at the University of California San Diego, obtained a PhD in Pharmaceutical Biology from the University of Tuebingen, Germany, and a B.Sc. in Pharmacy & Biochemistry from the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

  • Ophelia Venturelli

    Dr. Ophelia Venturelli is an Assistant Professor in Biochemistry, Bacteriology and Chemical & Biological Engineering at UW-Madison. She began her appointment in July 2016 after completing a Life Sciences Research Foundation Fellowship at UC Berkeley in the laboratory of Dr. Adam P. Arkin. Dr. Venturelli’s postdoctoral research focused on microbial community dynamics and strategies to manipulate intracellular resource allocation. She received her PhD in Biochemistry and Biophysics in 2013 from Caltech with Richard M. Murray, where she studied single-cell dynamics and the role of feedback loops in a metabolic gene regulatory network. The Venturelli lab focuses on understanding and engineering microbial communities using synthetic biology. Dr. Venturelli received the Shaw Scientist Award (2017), ARO Young Investigator Award (2017) and the NIH Outstanding Investigator Award (2017).

  • Huimin Zhao

    Dr. Huimin Zhao is the Steven L. Miller Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and professor of chemistry, biochemistry, biophysics, and bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He received his B.S. degree in Biology from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1992 and his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1998 under the guidance of Nobel Laureate Dr. Frances Arnold. Prior to joining UIUC in 2000, he was a project leader at the Industrial Biotechnology Laboratory of the Dow Chemical Company. He was promoted to full professor in 2008. Dr. Zhao has authored and co-authored over 300 research articles and over 25 issued and pending patent applications with several being licensed by industry. In addition, he has given over 370 plenary, keynote, or invited lectures. Twenty-six (26) of his former graduate students and postdocs are pursuing academic careers. Dr. Zhao received numerous research and teaching awards and honors. His primary research interests are in the development and applications of synthetic biology tools to address society’s most daunting challenges in health, energy, and sustainability, and in the fundamental aspects of enzyme catalysis, cell metabolism, gene regulation, and cell differentiation.

  • Kevin Solomon

    Dr. Kevin Solomon is an Assistant Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware. His work studies animal microbiomes to develop novel microbial platforms for sustainable biomanufacturing and depolymerization of polymeric waste substrates. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering from McMaster University (Canada) and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT. As part of his graduate work, Dr. Solomon developed new tools to increase biomanufacturing efficiency. His research and mentorship, at the intersection of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, were recognized with multiple awards including a Lemelson Presidential Fellowship, an NSERC Julie Payette Award, and a Science Education Leadership Award from SynBERC. As a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Barbara, he applied the latest advances in sequencing technologies to study how anaerobic fungi degrade lignocellulose and identify new tools for synthetic biology. Using these techniques, he spearheaded efforts to molecularly characterize in depth a class of elusive microbes with tremendous potential for biofuel production, agriculture, and drug discovery. His work is supported by the NSF, DOE, private trusts and industry.

  • Jesse Zalatan

    Jesse Zalatan is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Washington. His research focuses on understanding the physical organizing principles of biological networks in systems such as cell signaling, metabolism, and gene regulation, using methods ranging from mechanistic enzymology to synthetic biology. Jesse did his graduate work with Dan Herschlag on the mechanisms of enzyme-catalyzed phosphoryl transfer reactions. He performed postdoctoral research with Wendell Lim, where he studied mechanisms for controlling specificity in cell signaling networks.

  • Neha Kamat

    The Kamat Lab’s interests lie in constructing minimal systems, or artificial cells, as a tool to understand and recreate certain cellular behaviors. They use emerging engineering methods in material science and synthetic biology to construct in vitro models of cellular membranes that can couple membrane biophysical processes to chemical and genetic processes, yielding new cellular mimetic biomaterials, capable of complex sensing, signaling, and responsive behaviors. Their particular interests lie in understanding the role of the bilayer membrane in mechanical force sensing and designing biosensors for environmental analytes. Neha received a BS in Bioengineering from Rice University and a PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania. She currently holds a Young Investigator Award from the Air Force Research Office.

  • Rebecca Schulman

    Rebecca Schulman is an associate professor in the Departments of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Institute for Nanobiotechnology and the Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics at The Johns Hopkins University. Her research focuses on the development of intelligent and adaptive biomolecular materials and nanostructures and combines ideas from materials science, circuit design and cell-free synthetic biology. Dr. Schulman joined JHU after working as a Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship in physics at UC Berkeley. She received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and computer science from MIT and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. Recent awards include a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, DARPA Young Faculty Award and Directors Fellowship, an NSF Career Award, a Turing Scholar Award and a DOE Early Career Award

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