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Ting Lu earns NIH Outstanding Investigator Award

Susan McKenna
8/21/2019 3:00:39 PM

For his research that combines biology, engineering and physics, Ting Lu has been recognized with an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Lu, an associate professor of Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, works on the analysis, modeling and construction of synthetic bacterial gene circuits. Gene circuits are powerful tools to program cellular functionalities in living organisms. For instance, they can be used to generate defined dynamics, rewire endogenous networks, sense environmental stimuli and produce valuable chemicals. However, despite many successful demonstrations, the development of these circuits has relied largely on researchers’ experience and intuition and lacks quantitative tools that can accurately predict circuit behaviors.

With the award, which includes $1.9 million of research funding, Lu and his research team aim to establish a novel, integrative computational framework that enables quantitative descriptions and predictions of gene circuit dynamics. Through a combination of experiment and modeling, Lu and his team anticipate establishing a versatile modeling tool for designing synthetic gene circuits — which will help the development of more personalized and effective medical treatments — and generating a better fundamental understanding of how genes function and how bacteria grow and behave.

The figure shown here, from Lu's research, is an integrative view of synthetic gene circuits and their host. Synthetic circuits and the host mutually regulate the behaviors of each other, impacting single-cell dynamics and population behaviors, as well as the spatial ecology of synthetic populations.
The figure shown here, from Lu's research, is an integrative view of synthetic gene circuits and their host. Synthetic circuits and the host mutually regulate the behaviors of each other, impacting single-cell dynamics and population behaviors, as well as the spatial ecology of synthetic populations.

The NIH award is part of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ program, Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award, which supports the nation's mostly highly talented and promising investigators. It provides investigators with greater stability and flexibility, thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs. The award includes five years of substantial support for the program of research in an investigator's laboratory and is renewable upon the completion of the period.

Lu, who joined the Illinois faculty in 2011, also is an affiliated member of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, the Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

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