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Center for Physical Genomics and Engineering

2023 Symposium on Physical Genomics

Engineering Living Systems at the Interface of Biological, Physical and Computational Sciences

2023 Symposium on Physical Genomics Highlights the Future of Medicine

Late in the morning during the 2023 Symposium on Physical Genomics, Northwestern Engineering’s Vadim Backman made a comment that summed up the day.

“It feels like the future of medicine,” Backman said.

Backman made the remark during the daylong event, titled “Engineering Living Systems at the Interface of Biological, Physical, and Computational Sciences.” Held April 21 at Wieboldt Hall on Northwestern’s Chicago campus, the symposium is the flagship event of the Center for Physical Genomics and Engineering, which explores research in manipulating chromatin structure to treat disease and engineer living systems to overcome health and environmental challenges. Read More

Featured Speakers

Clodagh O’Shea, Keynote Speaker

Wicklow Capital Chair and professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Salk Institute of Biological Studies

Cracking the Nuclear Codes: Finding Order in Chaos

Clodagh O’Shea is the Wicklow Capital Chair and professor of molecular and cell biology at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, and an adjunct professor at the University of California San Diego. She earned her BSc in biochemistry at University College Cork and her PhD in immunology at the I.C.R.F. (Crick Center) and Imperial College London.

At the Salk Institute, O’Shea established a highly interdisciplinary program that blends virology, structural biology, biochemistry, cancer biology, multi-modal imaging, synthetic biology, and genomics. Her lab has made foundational discoveries that have impacted multiple fields, invented disruptive technologies, and translated this knowledge to develop transformative therapies. A recurring theme is her use of viruses, both as powerful tools to reveal critical tumor targets, and agents that can be rationally designed to seek and destroy tumors. Her work has revealed the underlying logic of genetic circuits that are disrupted in viral replication and cancer growth.

Learn more about CLODAGH O’SHEA Watch The Talk On YouTube


Chuan He

John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Chemistry and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago

RNA Methylation in Chromatin Regulation

Chuan He is the John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago. He received his BS from the University of Science and Technology of China and his PhD in chemistry from MIT.

He’s research spans chemical biology, RNA biology, epigenetics, biochemistry, and genomics. His recent research concerns reversible RNA and DNA methylation in biological regulation. In 2011, his group discovered reversible RNA methylation as a new mechanism of gene expression regulation. His laboratory characterized the RNA m6A methyltransferase complex and several key reader proteins that bind preferentially to m6A-modified RNA and regulate their stability and translation. In 2020, He discovered prevalent m6A methylation on chromatin-associated regulatory RNAs (carRNAs), which regulates chromatin state and global transcription. His laboratory has spearheaded the development of enabling technologies to study the biology of RNA and DNA modifications.

Learn more about CHUAN HE Watch The Talk on YouTube

Gary Karpen

Professor, Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley

New Insights into Formation, Organization and Function of Heterochromatin Condensates

Gary Karpen received his PhD from the University of Washington’s Department of Genetics in 1987. He then performed postdoctoral work with Allan Spradling at the Carnegie Institute. Karpen was a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (La Jolla, California) from 1991 to 2003 before moving to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the University of California, Berkeley. Karpen is a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, an author of more than 90 papers, book chapters, and review articles, and holds five patents. He served as LBNL Life Sciences Division Director from 2011 to 2015. The Karpen lab’s current research in the molecular and cell biology department at UC Berkeley continues a long-standing interest in chromosome structure and function, with a special emphasis on how biophysical and epigenetic mechanisms impact chromosome inheritance, nuclear architecture, genome stability, and human health.

Learn more about GARY KARPEN Watch The Talk on YouTube

Carolyn Larabell

Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco

Quantitative Imaging of Nuclear Organization

Carolyn Larabell is professor and vice chair of the Department of Anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco. She holds a joint appointment at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she is an advanced light source professor, director of the National Center for X-ray Tomography, and head of the cellular and tissue imaging department. She received her PhD from Arizona State University.

Larabell is a cell biologist with an extensive background in light and electron microscopy and a long history of developing and implementing new imaging technologies. For the past two decades, she has developed biological soft x-ray tomography to image cellular structures in the near-native state. To image molecules with respect to cell structures, her lab developed cryo fluorescence tomography. This technology enables localizing specific molecules using cryo fluorescence tomography and placing them in the context of native-state structures in the same cell seen with cryo soft x-ray tomography.

Learn more about CAROLYN LARABELL Watch The Talk on YouTube

Song Li

Chancellor’s Professor and Chair, Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Los Angeles

Mechano-Epigenetics for Cell Engineering

Son Li earned his BS and MS from Peking University, and his PhD and postdoctoral training in bioengineering at the University of California San Diego. He was a professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2001 to 2015. In 2016, he joined the bioengineering faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is currently a Chancellor’s Professor and chair of the UCLA bioengineering department with a joint appointment in the Department of Medicine.

Li’s research is focused on mechanotransduction, cell engineering, and regenerative medicine. His lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to investigate mechanotransduction and biophysical regulation from single cell to system level and to develop therapeutics by engineering stem cells, immune cells, and micro/nanomaterials. Li has been elected an American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering fellow, a Biomedical Engineering Society fellow, and an International Academy of Medical and Biological Engineering fellow.

Learn more about SONG LI Watch The Talk on YouTube

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