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Speakers for Unlocking the potential of synthetic biology to enhance human health


Speakers Banner Synthetic Bio 16

These are the biographies of some of our accepted speakers.  Not all our speakers are listed here


Mark Isalan, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom

Mark Isalan is a Reader in Gene Network Engineering in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. His group works on protein and gene network engineering, aiming to design biological systems that behave predictably and robustly. Previous positions include heading the Gene Network Engineering Group in the EMBL-CRG Systems Biology Unit in Barcelona (2006-2013) and postdoctoral positions at EMBL Heidelberg, Germany (2002-2006). He has also worked in industry, developing zinc fingers at Gendaq Ltd, UK (2000-2002; now owned by Sangamo Biosciences, Richmond CA), based on his PhD at the MRC LMB (1996-2000).

Marios Kyriazis, ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, London, UK

Marios Kyriazis qualified as a medical doctor (MD) from the University of Rome, Italy, and after preclinical work in the USA he worked as a clinician in acute medicine in Cyprus, and the UK. He subsequently qualified as a Gerontologist with interest in the biology of aging and became a Chartered Member of the ‘Royal Society of Biology’ in the UK. He also has a post-graduate qualification in Geriatric Medicine from the Royal College of Physicians of London. Other appointments include Member of the Board of Trustees at the Mediterranean Graduate School of Applied Social Cognition, affiliate researcher at the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Group, University of Brussels, and a Ronin Research Scholar. Currently, he works with the ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, a serious endeavour to study the elimination of age-related degeneration. The research is focused on transdisciplinary models and explores common principles between biology, complexity sciences, evolution, cybernetics, neurosciences, and techno-cultural elements. Areas of interest include robustness and degeneracy in organic systems, fragility and redundancy, repair processes (including self-repair), hormesis and environmental enrichment in aging, and immortalisation of somatic cells.


Claudia Vickers, Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD, Australia

Dr Vickers did her PhD in plant molecular biology at The University of Queensland and then spent 3 years at Essex University in the UK specializing in isoprenoid biology. She returned to Australia in 2007 to work at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. She is an Associate Group Leader and head of the Industrial Isoprenoids and Synthetic Biology Group. Her research programs include isoprenoid biology/metabolic regulation/engineering, carbohydrate metabolism/engineering, and beer systems biology. These diverse areas are linked though understanding fundamental biology and applying this understanding to industrial bioprocesses.

Baojun Wang, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Dr Baojun Wang is a Chancellor’s Fellow in Synthetic Biology at the University of Edinburgh working at the interface between biology and engineering. He received a PhD in Bioengineering from Imperial College London and joined the University of Edinburgh in 2013 to establish a synthetic biology research group. His research interests include building novel customised gene circuits for sensing, information processing and computing of multiple cellular and environmental signals with applications in diverse biotechnological areas such as biosensing, biprocessing and biotherapies.


Invited Speakers

Paul Beales, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom

Michael Boettcher, University of California, San Francisco, United States

Vítor Martins Dos Santos, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands

Mark Howarth, Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

Mark has been a group leader in Oxford University Department of Biochemistry since 2007. He did postdoctoral studies at MIT with Alice Ting where he developed monovalent streptavidin and monovalent quantum dots for tracking neurotransmitter receptors. His doctoral work was with Tim Elliott at Southampton University on MHC class I quality control.

Philipp Zerbe, University of California, USA

Philipp Zerbe is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Plant Biology, University of California-Davis. His research focuses on the discovery and engineering of terpenoid metabolism in medicinal and food plants for developing production platforms for terpenoid bioproducts with human benefit. For his research, Dr. Zerbe recently received the Arthur C. Neish Young Investigator Award. Prior to his position at UC Davis, Dr. Zerbe received his PhD from the Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, followed by Postdoctoral research at the University of British Columbia (Canada).

Weiqi Fu, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland

Dr Weiqi Fu is currently working as a Research Scientist at New York University Abu Dhabi while also holds adjunct faculty position as Associate Professor at the University of Iceland. He received a PhD in Biochemical Engineering and a Bachelor in Bioengineering from Zhejiang University. His current research interests lie in using green algae as well as the diatoms, as model organisms to perform process design, genetic engineering and process optimization at systems level for developing photosynthetic cell factories and improving energy conversion in the processes that make bio-fixation of CO2 into fine chemicals feasible.

Mark Isalan, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom

Mark Isalan is a Reader in Gene Network Engineering in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. His group works on protein and gene network engineering, aiming to design biological systems that behave predictably and robustly. Previous positions include heading the Gene Network Engineering Group in the EMBL-CRG Systems Biology Unit in Barcelona (2006-2013) and postdoctoral positions at EMBL Heidelberg, Germany (2002-2006). He has also worked in industry, developing zinc fingers at Gendaq Ltd, UK (2000-2002; now owned by Sangamo Biosciences, Richmond CA), based on his PhD at the MRC LMB (1996-2000).

Aashiq Kachroo, The University of Texas, Austin, United States

Aashiq H. Kachroo’s PhD thesis work, performed at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, concerned the molecular evolution of new functions in pre-existing bacterial operons. He did post-doctoral training at the University of Texas at Austin with Dr. Makkuni Jayaram, studying mechanisms site-specific DNA recombination. His current research at UT Austin with Dr. Edward Marcotte focuses on understanding deep homologies in essential genes across vast evolutionary distances (yeast and humans). His research interests span mechanisms of evolution of novel gene functions in bacteria, cryptic genes, site-specific DNA recombination and ‘humanization’ of essential pathways in budding yeast.

Ellis O’Neill, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

Ellis O’Neill originally studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, working on gene silencing in algae with David Baulcombe. He then went on to complete his PhD at the John Innes Centre studying carbohydrate active enzymes and algal metabolism with Rob Field. Ellis then worked on complex natural product metabolism with Brad Moore at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. Currently Ellis is working with Steve Kelly in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford on engineering the biosynthesis of high value natural products to enable the biosynthesis and modification of drugs.

Luis Ángel Fernández, Centro Nacional de Biotecnología (CNB-CSIC), Madrid, Spain

Luis Ángel Fernández obtained his PhD in Molecular Biology from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in 1995. Later he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology University of California, San Franciso. He joined the Department of Microbial Biotechnology CNB-CSIC with a tenure track contract in 2001, and since 2005 he is Principal Investigator of a research group focusing on protein secretion, antibody and bacterial engineering.

Markus Herrgard, Technical University of Denmark, Hørsholm, Denmark

Professor. Markus Herrgård is the Director of the iLoop translational research unit at the NNF Center for Biosustainability (CFB) responsible for commercialization of microbial cell factories. The iLoop unit consists of five technology platforms working collaboratively to engineer high performance cell factories. Prior to joining the CFB Prof. Herrgård was a senior scientist and group leader at Synthetic Genomics, Inc. in the US managing a group focused on genome mining, synthetic biology design and modeling. Prof. Herrgård has a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego, and he is a co-author of 44 peer-reviewed publications.

Alfonso Jaramillo, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom

Young-Wook Jun, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States

Rob Krams, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom

Rob Krams is Professor of Molecular Bioengineering at Imperial College London. Prof Krams is trained as a medic and received his BSc (1987) and PhD (1990) degrees from the University of Amsterdam. His interest is in mechanobiology of blood vessels and he uses a combination of imaging, genomics and computational methods to elucidate genomic network information from endothelial cells. A new interest is in high throughput technologies. After a period of postdoctoral training in John Hopkins (Baltimore, USA), he moved to the world-renowned Thorax center (Rotterdam, NL) where he developed his skills in mechanobiology and imaging. From 2004-2008 he was a recipient of an established investigatorship of the Dutch Heart Foundation. He joined Imperial College in 2007.

Marios Kyriazis, ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, London, UK

Louise Mackenzie, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK

Cathie Martin, John Innes Centre, Norfolk, United Kingdom

Johnathan Napier, Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Diego Orzaez, Instituto de Biologia Molecular y Celular de Plantas-CSIC, Valencia, Spain

Ilia Platzman, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems & University of Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Germany

Chris Tate, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology,Cambridge, United Kingdom

Chris Tate has spent over 25 years working on integral membrane proteins from bacteria to humans to understand how they translocate signals, ions or solutes across the membrane. For the past 10 years his group at the Laboratory of Moelcular Biology (Cambridge, UK) has been working extensively on the structure determination of G protein coupled receptors, which has led to a molecular understanding of how they are activated upon binding agonists and why ligands of slightly different structures show dramatic diffrences in their efficacy. The methodology of conformational thermostabilisation was developed in his lab and this was used as the technological foundation for the spin-out company Heptares Therapeutics that Tate helped to co-found in July 2007. Heptares has grown into a world-leading drug discovery biotech company that uses structure-based drug design to develop new therapeutics that are now entering the clinic.

Min Wan, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Ling Wang, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an, Shaanxi, China

Alfonso Jaramillo, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom

Alfonso Jaramillo holds PhD (Particle Physics, Valencia, 1999) and Habilitation (Biology, Paris-Sud, 2007) degrees. After postdoctoral appointments with Prof. Wodak (ULB Brussels, 1999-2002) and Prof. Karplus (ULP France and Harvard USA, 2002-2003), he started in 2003 as Assistant Professor at the Ecole Polytechnique (France), becoming tenured in 2005. There, he further developed computational synthetic biology. In 2009, after moving to Genopole (France) as CNRS-senior researcher, he started his experimental synthetic biology lab, utilizing directed evolution, microscopy, microfluidics and 3D printing. In 2013, he opened a second lab at the University of Warwick, where he holds the Chair of Synthetic Biology.

Paul Beales, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom

Paul obtained his PhD from the School of Physics at the University of Edinburgh in 2006. Following postdoc positions in the chemical engineering departments at Princeton and Yale Universities, Paul took up an independent tenure track fellowship at the University of Leeds in 2010, becoming a tenured member of the School of Chemistry in 2015. The Beales research group applies soft matter principles to the bionanotechnology and biophysics of self-assembled vesicles, with a particular focus on novel healthcare applications of these materials.

Oral Presentation

Alex Taylor, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Dr. Taylor is a graduate of Imperial College and King’s College London. His doctoral thesis focused on changes to key molecules of the immune system over time, leading to an interest in the constraints imposed by natural evolution, and natural chemistries. Fundamentally, synthetic biology asks whether we can build artificial analogues of life-like processes in order to explore beyond the limitations of nature’s biopolymers. Since 2010, in the Holliger group at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, Dr. Taylor has been tackling this question using groundbreaking ‘synthetic genetic systems’ based on artificial analogues of DNA, xeno nucleic acids (XNA).

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