2014 Dr. Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series

Synthetic Biology: The New Frontier of Engineering and the Life Sciences

The engineering of life is becoming significantly more systematic and ambitious, focusing on the addition of new functionalities into biological systems. The emerging field of synthetic biology promises to lead to more environmentally friendly and cost-effective means of producing fuels, medicines and more. The 2014 Nelson Series speakers explored the prospects for this approach by looking at diverse examples ranging from engineered molecules to whole organisms.

Admission to this public lecture series were complimentary. Events were held in the auditorium of the R. Michael Shanahan Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvey Mudd College located at 320 East Foothill Boulevard, Claremont. A dessert reception followed each lecture.

Inquiries may be directed to stewardship@hmc.edu, or call the Office of Stewardship and Events at 909.607.0943.

Adam ArkinAdam Arkin, Thursday, Oct. 9, 7 p.m.

Dean A. Richard Newton Memorial Professor, Bioengineering, UC Berkeley;
Director, Physical Biosciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

“Knowledge, Context and Process: Building a Foundational Infrastructure for Engineering Cells for Use in an Uncertain World”

Both natural and synthetically augmented organisms must operate in an uncertain world. Resources change, contact with other life yields surprising interactions, and changes in genetic code lead to new behaviors. Predictable behavior and engineering of organisms in the face of uncertainty is a core challenge in making synthetic biology a true engineering science. It requires a systems engineering view of the problem: invention of tools for rapid manufacture and characterization of biological function in changeable contexts; discovery of reliable, flexible sets of biological elements with design rules that reduce operational variability; and CAD and manufacturing knowledge systems to ensure efficient design-build-test-learn cycles. In addition to these issues, Arkin will discuss how scaling of biomanufacture is driving the creation of biofoundries to solve problems in energy, health and the environment.

Frances ArnoldFrances Arnold, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.

Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry and Director, Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center, Caltech

“Innovation by Evolution: Engineering Tiny Life”

Science uses the one proven algorithm for biological design—evolution—to engineer biological molecules and systems to solve human problems. A powerful approach to engineering the biological world, “directed evolution” both circumvents and underscores our profound ignorance of how sequence encodes function. Arnold will describe how we create new biological entities in the laboratory using artificial selection, as well as how to re-write DNA—work that demonstrates the remarkable ability of biological systems to adapt to new challenges.

Kristala PratherKristala L.J. Prather, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 7 p.m.

Theodore T. Miller Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, MIT

“Teaching Old Bacteria New Tricks: Engineering Microbial Chemical Factories”

Microorganisms naturally possess a wide array of chemical compounds, synthesized and transformed by the action of their constituent enzymes. Prather will discuss efforts to expand this suite of chemicals by designing and introducing new pathways into microbial hosts, as well as efforts to control these pathways in novel ways.


Sarah Reisinger '99Sarah Reisinger ’99, Tuesday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m.

Senior Director, Research & Development, Amyris

“Amyris: From Biotechnology Startup to Successful Renewable Products Manufacturer”

Amyris is an integrated renewable products company focused on providing sustainable alternatives to a broad range of petroleum or environmentally sourced products, from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to industrial lubricants and renewable fuels. Reisinger will address Amyris’s technology, portfolio of products and the technology pipeline that enables Amyris to engineer economical microbial factors and to provide stable, low-cost, environmentally sustainable supplies of many chemicals needed for an expanding worldwide population.