October 24, 2014, Webb 1100

Mustafa Khammash

ETH Zurich, Biosystems Science and Engineering


Norbert Wiener’s 1948 Cybernetics presented a vision unifying the study of control and communication in the animal and the machine. Predating the discovery of the structure of DNA and the ensuing molecular biology revolution, applications in the life sciences at the time were limited. More than 60 years later, the confluence of modern genetic manipulation techniques, powerful measurement technologies, and advanced analysis methods is enabling a new area of research in which systems and control notions are used for regulating cellular processes at the gene level. We refer to this promising nascent field as Cyber.genetics. This presentation describes novel analytical and experimental work that demonstrates how de novo control systems implemented with stochastic components can be interfaced with living cells and used to control their dynamic behavior. The feedback systems can either be realized on a computer (in silico control) or through genetically encoded parts (in vivo control). The two approaches will be compared and contrasted, and applications in biotechnology and therapeutics will be described.

Speaker's Bio

Dr. Khammash is Professor of Control Theory and Systems Biology in the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) at ETH-Zurich. He received his B.S. degree from Texas A&M University in 1986 and his Ph.D. from Rice University in 1990, both in Electrical Engineering. In 1990, he joined the Electrical Engineering Department at Iowa State University. While at Iowa State University, he created the Dynamics and Control Program and led that control group until 2002, when he became a member of the Mechanical Engineering faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In Santa Barbara, he served as Vice Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department from 2003 to 2006 and as the Director of the Center for Control, Dynamical Systems and Computation from 2005 to 2011. In 2011 Prof. Khammash moved with his group to Switzerland, joining the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich. Dr. Khammash works in the areas of control theory, systems biology, and synthetic biology. His research aims to understand the role of dynamics, feedback, and randomness in biology, and to develop the tools needed to aid in this understanding. Work in his lab focuses on the creation of novel computational methods for the modeling, simulation, analysis, and control of biological networks, with particular attention to stochastic systems. Application of these methods to the understanding of specific biological systems include calcium homeostasis, bacterial heat-shock response, pheromone response in yeast, NFk-B signaling pathway, Pap and Ag43 epigenetic switches. Working at the interface of control theory and biology, Prof. Khammash's group is currently developing the theory, computational methods, and experimental tools for the computer control of living cell populations.

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