Jeff Tabor is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Rice University. He received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from UT-Austin in 2006, studying with Andy Ellington. There, he demonstrated that synthetic genetic circuits can compete for ribosomes, and increase noise in global gene expression in E. coli. He also led a collaboration with Chris Voigt’s group at UCSF to engineer E. coli to function as a photographic film. He then joined the Voigt lab as an NIH postdoctoral fellow, where he reprogrammed the bacterial film to function as an edge detector, and engineered the first two-channel optical gene regulatory system, also in E. coli.
Research interests: A current major limitation in synthetic biology is that even well characterized genetic devices (sensors, transcription factors, promoters,) often fail to compose in a predictable manner, and new compositions require significant time and effort to debug. My group is working to make synthetic biology more predictable. Our approach is to develop novel ‘optogenetic’ methods – based upon genetically encoded light-switchable proteins – to measure and control biochemical processes inside the cell with unprecedented accuracy and precision. Our current focus is using light switchable proteins to generate gene expression signals, such as linear ramps or sine waves, that can be used to study the dynamical properties of genetic circuits. Then, with more complete models of component circuits in hand, we aim to assemble them into larger systems, with predictable outcomes. We are applying the discoveries gained from our methods to program cell differentiation, synthetic multicellular patterns, and tissue growth, as well as novel cellular sense/respond behaviors for a range of applications.