Synthetic Biology

For May 9, 2018

Hi WN@TL Fans,

Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis.  What is more electric than the dialectic?

To compose by combining, Kant, Hegel, Fichte and others plucked parts from a thesis here and pulled components from an antithesis there and plugged them together to synthesize new ideas.  Every synthesis becomes a thesis, begetting its own antithesis, resulting in a new synthesis, and thus will spin a great wheel of bafflement for undergrads for generations to come.

But for chemists, synthesis is combining elements into simple compounds and then combining simple compounds into complex ones, and the complex ones combine into cells and such, and the next thing you know we have Hegel in the flesh.

While “synthetic” is often used as the antithesis of “natural,” one has to wonder if Nature is not the Great Synthesizer.

So what might we learn, in concept and in technique and in systems, by taking a synthetic biology approach?

This week (May 9)  Vatsan Raman of Biochemistry will speak on “Synthetic Biology for Biomanufacturing, Environmental Sustainability, and Human Health.”  Here’s how he describes his talk:

Synthetic biology is a burgeoning field that encompasses understanding and designing biological systems spanning from biomolecules to ecosystems. Synthetic biology builds on advances in molecular and cellular technologies to revolutionize biological engineering in the same way that organic synthesis transformed chemistry and integrated circuit design transformed computing.

Synthetic biology has the potential to address many of society’s grand challenges, including understanding human disease, programming mammalian-cell behaviors, engineering living materials, and more.

In his talk, Raman will talk about research in his laboratory on the use of high-throughput technologies to engineer microbes for sustainable production of fuels and chemicals. He will discuss new approaches to discovering enzymes in soil and other environments for bioremediation, concluding with emerging tools to repurpose bacterial viruses (also known as phages) as a therapeutic to kill pathogenic bacteria.

About the Speaker

In addition to his professorship in the Department of Biochemistry, Vatsan Raman is an affiliate member of the Department of Bacteriology, a member of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, and a member of the Genome Center of Wisconsin. His laboratory takes a systems-and-synthetic-biology approach to understanding and designing biology at multiple scales: proteins, microbial transcriptional regulation and metabolic pathways, and bacteriophages. The laboratory is interested in understanding the molecular basis of protein allostery, designing allosteric small-molecule biosensors, comprehending fundamental principles of bacterial transcription regulation and creating new transcriptional systems, and planning bacteriophages with new host specificities and regulation.

Raman earned his undergraduate degree in India, his master’s degree from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and his doctorate from the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, where he worked on developing high-throughput technologies for designing new proteins and engineering microbial biosynthetic pathways.


Prof. Raman is also a co-PI on the UW’s “Human Microbiome in Health and Disease” project that won UW 2020 funding last year.

Next week, May 16, Martin Foys of English will chart out for us the Digital Mappa project.  True, one picture is worth a thousand words—but nothing’s more loquacious than a map.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Thanks again,

Tom Zinnen
UW-Madison and UW-Extension