[Illinois] Knowledge, Context, and Process: Building a Foundational Infrastructure for Engineering Cells for Use in an Uncertain World

By Adam Arkin

University of California, Berkeley

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Both natural and synthetically augmented organisms, like those engineered to produce advanced biofuels, ultimately have to operate in an uncertain world. Resources change, contact with other life, and yield surprising interactions, and in some cases, changes in one’s own genetic code lead to new (and usually unwanted) behaviors. Predictable behavior and predictable engineering of organisms in the face of these uncertainties is a core challenge in making synthetic biology a true engineering science. To realize this will take a systems engineering view of the problem: invention of tools for rapid manufacture and characterization of biological function in changeable contexts, design and discovery of reliable and flexible sets of biological elements and rules for their composition that reduce variability in their operation, and computer-aided design and manufacturing knowledge systems to make efficient design-build-test-learn cycles feasible. Dr. Arkin will discuss his approaches to all three issues and how scaling of biomanufacture and characterization is driving the creation of biofoundries to solve problems in energy, health and the environment.


Dr. Arkin is a leading authority on the evolutionary design principles of cellular networks and populations and their application to systems and synthetic biology. He received his undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Carleton College and his Ph.D in Physical Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and subsequently pursued postdoctoral studies at Stanford University. He was featured in a special edition of Time magazine on “Future Innovators” in 2000; is a member of the first class of the Technology Reviews TR100; was elected as a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology in 2007; and is a Laureate of the 2014 Department of Energy Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award.


Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Adam Arkin (2015), "[Illinois] Knowledge, Context, and Process: Building a Foundational Infrastructure for Engineering Cells for Use in an Uncertain World," https://nanohub.org/resources/22596.

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NanoBio Node, Aly Taha

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


  1. Illinois
  2. NanoBio Node
  3. foundational
  4. infrastructure
  5. engineering
  6. cells