Michael Elowitz is an HHMI Investigator and Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at Caltech, recognized for foundational contributions to the fields of synthetic biology and systems biology. His lab has shown that biological behaviors can be programmed using custom designed molecular circuits; revealed the pervasive role of stochastic fluctuations-or “noise”-in gene expression; and identified a set of biological circuit designs underpinning cellular and multicellular development. Elowitz grew up in Los Angeles, CA, attending the Hamiltion Humanities Magnet high school. He studied Physics as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley and then obtained his PhD in Physics at Princeton, where he worked with Stanislas Leibler on cytoskeletal dynamics and the design of synthetic biological circuits. He then moved to Rockefeller University, where he worked in the laboratory of Arnold J. Levine, and with the Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, on gene expression noise. In 2003, he started his own laboratory at Caltech, where he has brought synthetic, quantitative, and single cell approaches to multicellular, mammalian systems. Honors include the MacArthur Fellowship, Searle and Packard Fellowships, the HFSP Nakasone Award, Presidential Early Career Award, Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, Sackler Prize in Biophysics, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Living cells use circuits of interacting genes and proteins to process and remember information, communicate with one another, and develop into complex multicellular organisms. The Elowitz laboratory seeks to understand the design principles that allow these circuits to operate so effectively, and to apply that understanding to predict and control natural cellular behaviors, and to program totally new cellular behaviors "from scratch." Elowitz?s early research helped establish the possibility of designing biological circuits that implement new cellular behaviors in bacteria and mammalian cells. It further revealed that gene expression is intrinsically stochastic, or 'noisy', and showed how noise functions to enable probabilistic differentiation, time-based regulation, and other functions. The laboratory has gone on to bring synthetic biology approaches to understand and program cell-cell communication, signal processing, epigenetic memory, and cell fate control. Currently, major themes in the lab include the use of combinatorial, many-to-many interactions among families of protein variants as a mechanism of biochemical computation, the engineering of biological circuits that could provide therapeutic functions, and the creation of synthetic "recording" systems that allow genomic recording of lineage information.

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Primary Section

Section 21: Biochemistry

Secondary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology