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Using Nature’s Building Blocks to Solve Challenges in Sustainability and Medicine

Using Nature’s Building Blocks to Solve Challenges in Sustainability and Medicine

Are you interested in learning how to solve new challenges in sustainability and medicine through protein engineering?

Recorded Tuesday, April 4, 2023 

Northwestern University’s Corporate Engagement team hosted a webinar on innovations in synthetic biology, led by Dr. Danielle Tullman-Ercek, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at Northwestern University.

Who Should Participate   

Business and academic leaders interested in learning more about how to apply protein engineering and synthetic biology to solve real-world challenges in sustainability and medicine.


Nature is tremendously complex, yet this complexity arises from a remarkably small set of building blocks: nucleic acids, lipids, and protein. Northwestern's Center for Synthetic Biology comprises experts in engineering these building blocks in isolation and as part of larger systems that can be used to solve societal problems. With this talk, I will describe ongoing work of our Center, with a focus on my own lab's work to engineer proteins that can self-assemble into precisely ordered nanostructures such as filaments, icosahedra, and various other geometries. These protein structures provide remarkable versatility. For example, a nanoscale protein capsule could serve as a delivery vehicle for cellular and gene therapy applications or as a vaccine scaffold. However, such structures must be tunable for each application.
Despite remarkable recent advances in AI-driven tools, the ability to predict how small alterations to the protein building blocks will impact self-assembly and other structural properties remains a significant challenge. Working in teams with other Northwestern faculty, we are able to use synthetic biology and protein engineering approaches to uncover the fundamental rules of self-assembly, and we are now translating this understanding to impactful applications in sustainability and medicine. 

The Recording

Speaker Bio:


Danielle Tullman-Ercek is a professor in the department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University. She earned her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. in the same field from the University of Texas at Austin. Prof. Tullman-Ercek began her post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco in the laboratory of Chris Voigt. Her primary project in the Voigt lab was the study of spider silk production and secretion in Salmonella. She continued her postdoctoral studies at the Joint BioEnergy Institute, working to improve enzymes that break down biomass for more efficient and economic biofuel production processes. Tullman-Ercek builds biomolecular devices for a wide range of applications in areas from medicine to the environment. Her lab’s research focuses on highly organized self-assembling proteins — the nanoscale building blocks of biology. In addition to leading the Master of Biotechnology Program at Northwestern Engineering and the Synthetic Biology Research Experience for Undergraduates program, Danielle is the new co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology.

This is an informational webinar with an opportunity for Q&A with the speaker at the end. Participation is encouraged.