Biomolecular engineering and biotechnology have revolutionized the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries and are now playing increasingly important roles in energy, chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries. Research groups in our department are investigating biological processes from molecular to organism level to answer both fundamental scientific questions and to engineer new products. In particular, research groups at Illinois are developing methods to convert renewable feedstocks such as plant biomass into fuels and chemicals; create implantable biomaterials to regenerate bone, tendon, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels; engineer cell functions through environmental and genetic controls; discover novel antibiotics, anticancer drugs and agrochemicals, improve bioimaging quality and understand fundamental mechanisms underlying biological phenomena.
Synthetic Biology and Biochemical Engineering
The goal of synthetic biology is to engineer and reprogram cellular processes for producing novel compounds and also improving health and the environment through the rational implementation of well-characterized genetic components.
- Towards this goal, the Rao laboratory is developing computational algorithms and experimental approaches for reprogramming the specificity of biological systems with applications in the fields of bacterial chemotaxis, biofuel production and identifying genetic origin of bacterial virulence.
- The Zhao laboratory is develops and applies synthetic biology approaches, particularly directed evolution, to engineer functionally improved or novel proteins, pathways, and genomes. In parallel, the Zhao laboratory investigates the protein structure-function relationship, cell metabolism, and mechanisms of gene expression and regulation.
Advances in the field of tissue engineering and healthcare are increasingly reliant on advanced material systems that instruct, rather than simply permit, a desired cellular response.
- The Harley Group in our department is developing advance biomaterials that replicate the dynamic, spatially-patterned, and heterogeneous microenvironment found in the tissues of our body and uses this approach to generate new insight regarding how biomaterial cues can instruct cell responses in the context of development, disease, and regeneration.
- The Kong Group is developing advanced material systems useful for fundamental biotransport studies, imaging-based diagnosis, infection control, and regenerative therapies. Specifically, the group is focused on creating simple, but novel methods to control nano- and micro-structure of materials inspired by nature and use these material systems to detect and treat various acute, chronic, and malignant diseases including cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Cellular and Molecular Biophysics
Cells are tiny but complex bioreactors. Cellular function is collectively determined by the combination of biochemical reactions that occur within it. These biochemical reactions are ultimately controlled by the concentrations and structures of biomolecules within the cell. Several research groups in our department work on understanding the mechanisms by which these reactions can be controlled.
- The Kraft group is developing novel approaches for identifying how compositional signatures are acquired from individual cells and used to understand and predict biological function for basic research on the roles of lipids in plasma membrane organization, influenza virus replication, intracellular trafficking, and cell function.
- The Shukla group is developing computational techniques to investigate biological systems at an atomistic level for understanding the mechanisms by which chemicals are sensed, transported and produced by proteins, how proteins evolve to acquire a particular function and how these structure and function of a proteins can be regulated.
- The Leckband group focuses on understanding cellular communication with emphasis on mechanisms by which cells sense and transduce chemical and mechanical information to regulate cell functions. In particular, the research in Leckband group is focused on how cells sense the mechanical environment through cell surface adhesion proteins, and the interplay between biomaterials design, mechanics, and cell functions.