Christopher Voigt

Work and research

En savoir plusMIT - Department of Biological Engineering

Research Focus

Genetic engineering is undergoing a revolution, where next-generation technologies for DNA and host manipulation are enabling larger and more ambitious projects in biotechnology. Automated DNA synthesis has advanced to where it is routine to order sequences >100,000bp where every base is user-specified, the turnaround time is several weeks, and the cost is rapidly declining. Recently, this facilitated the synthesis of a complete 1 Mbp genome of a bacterium and its transfer into a new host, resulting in a living cell. However, while whole genomes can be constructed, the ability to design such systems is lagging. The focus of my lab is to develop new experimental and theoretical methods to push the scale of genetic engineering, with the ultimate objective of genome design. This will impact the engineering of biology for a broad range of applications, including agriculture, materials, chemicals, and medicine.

My lab is roughly divided into two groups. The first is focused on the development of a programming language for cells. A genetic “program” consists of a combination of genetic circuits, each of which uses biochemistry to replicate a function analogous to an electronic circuit (e.g., a logic gate). Combining circuits yields more complex signal processing operations. For example, we combined 4 circuits to build an “edge detection program” in E. coli that enables cells to draw the light-dark boundaries of an image projected on a plate. Our near-term objective is to develop the foundations by which 20-30 circuit programs can be reliably built. This will require new classes of circuits that can be rapidly connected and are sufficiently simple and robust to be assembled by computer algorithms. We are also developing biophysical models that can map the sequence of a genetic part (e.g., a ribosome binding site) to its function. These models can be used to connect and optimize circuits and programs.

The second group in my lab is focused on applying these tools to problems in biotechnology. This encompasses new approaches to old problems (e.g., nitrogen fixation) as well as more futuristic ideas (e.g., re-programming bacteria as a drug delivery device). Currently, we are focused on harnessing the functions encoded within prokaryotic gene clusters. These are contiguous stretches of DNA in the genome that (ideally) contain all of the genes necessary and sufficient for that function. These clusters consist of diverse functions requiring ~20+ genes, including elaborate nano-machines and metabolic pathways. We are applying principles from synthetic biology to rebuild these functions from the ground up, in order to eliminate complex and often uncharacterized native regulation, gain complete control and understanding of the cluster, and to facilitate its optimization and transfer between organisms. To do this, we use the same computational tools, genetic circuits, and construction methodologies developed by the foundational half of the lab. This work represents a step towards whole genome design, where our vision is that the future designer would mix-and-match modular clusters to build a synthetic organism.

En savoir plusVoigt Lab - MIT

"We are developing a basis by which cells can be programmed like robots to perform complex, coordinated tasks for pharmaceutical and industrial applications. We are engineering new sensors that give bacteria the senses of touch, sight, and smell. Genetic circuits — analogous to their electronic counterparts — are built to integrate the signals from the various sensors. Finally, the output of the gene circuits is used to control cellular processes. We are also developing theoretical tools from statistical mechanics and non-linear dynamics to understand how to combine genetic devices and predict their collective behavior."

En savoir plusSynthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc)

Christopher Voigt is the leader of the research group "Devices"

A device is an engineered genetic object designed to perform a specific function under specific conditions. Researchers build devices by combining one or more standard biological parts. In the practice of synthetic biology, individual investigators typically respond to the needs of different applications or interests by building devices on an ad hoc basis.  However, for synthetic biology research to scale up, we need to lay the foundation for “plug and play” genetic devices and establish a defined set of standard device families.

At Synberc, we are doing just that. Our Devices and Device Composition (DDC) thrust supports testbed device engineering via the development of device family specifications. Our DDC work also focuses on creating foundational methods and tools. The DDC thrust complements the work being done in the Parts and Parts Composition Thrust, so that we can better understand how parts might be engineered to better support devices composition. We are also expanding the Device thrust’s emphasis on measurement and modeling, noting our ongoing need to participate in the creation of a professionally-staffed production facility for producing a repository of high quality synthetic biological devices (see also BIOFAB – see

Read more about "Devices"



En savoir plusClick here for complete publication listing


Department of Biological Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Biology Center
500 Technology Square


Cambridge, MA 02139

E-mail: TBA