Northwestern University is solidifying its place in the exciting field of synthetic biology.


The new Center for Synthetic Biology, which launched March 22, will make Northwestern one of the top destinations in the field for research and education in the country.


“This Center will rapidly raise our leadership profile in the field,” said Milan Mrksich, director of the center. “It will create a community where the best faculty, students, and postdoctoral fellows find an intellectual home with partners from diverse backgrounds, a suite of technologies that allow research to be performed at the highest level, and a vibrant program for visitors from both within and outside Northwestern. This will create an ecosystem for synthetic biology that is second to none.”


Synthetic biology uses tools and concepts from physics, engineering, and computer science to build new biological systems. Much of this research focuses on reprogramming cells by changing their DNA to take on new, specialized purposes, such as creating sustainable chemicals, next generation materials, or targeted therapies.


The Center for Synthetic Biology is led by Mrksich, Henry Wade Rogers Professor of biomedical engineering, chemistry, and cell and molecular biology, and co-director Michael Jewett, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering.


“The Center will focus on research that lies at the intersection of science and technology, creating opportunities for technology transfer, clinical translation, and commercialization,” said Jewett. “Our educational priorities will help create a tightknit community that further enhances this field.”


The Center’s advisory board includes three internationally renowned scientists and engineers: Frances Arnold, the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology; James J. Collins, the Termeer Professor of Bioengineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Wendell Lim, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California at San Francisco.


“This new Center will help us attract some of the best minds and researchers as we continue to grow in this field,” said Julio M. Ottino, dean of Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “With a strong core in chemical engineering and connections to many other disciplines, our faculty have already established themselves as an emerging area of strength.”


“Centers play an important catalytic role at Northwestern, providing an infrastructure for faculty to collaborate across disciplines,” said Jay Walsh, vice president for research at Northwestern. “Northwestern remains committed to investing in research that has far-reaching implications in fields like healthcare and sustainability. Our research in synthetic biology will continue to search for and develop new solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.”


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