Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities, such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells, or the redesign of existing biological systems. It builds on the advances in molecular, cell, and systems biology and seeks to transform biology in the same way that synthesis transformed chemistry and integrated circuit design transformed computing. The element that distinguishes synthetic biology from traditional molecular and cellular biology is the focus on the design and construction of core components that can be modeled, understood, and tuned to meet specific performance criteria and the assembly of these smaller parts and devices into larger integrated systems that solve specific biotechnology problems.
Dr. Huimin Zhao is the Centennial Endowed Chair Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and professor of chemistry, biochemistry, biophysics, and bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He received his B.S. degree in Biology from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1992 and his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1998 under the guidance of Dr. Frances Arnold. Prior to joining UIUC in 2000, he was a project leader at the Industrial Biotechnology Laboratory of the Dow Chemical Company. He was promoted to full professor in 2008. Dr. Zhao has authored and co-authored 150 research articles and 20 issued and pending patent applications with several being licensed by industry. In addition, he has given plenary, keynote or invited lectures in more than 170 international meetings and institutions. Eight of his former graduate students and postdocs became professors in the US and other countries.
Dr. Zhao received numerous research and teaching awards and honors, including Guggenheim Fellowship (2012), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (2010), Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) (2009), American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering Division Plenary Award Lecturer (2009), the American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Biochemical Technology Young Investigator Award (2008), Outstanding Overseas Young Chinese Scholars Award (2007), DuPont Young Professor Award (2005), National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2004), Dow Chemical Special Recognition Award (1999), Xerox Award for Faculty Research from UIUC College of Engineering (2005), Petit Scholar from UIUC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (2006), and University Scholar from UIUC (2007). Dr. Zhao served as a consultant for over 10 companies such as Pfizer, Maxygen, BP, Gevo, and zuChem, and a Scientific Advisory Board member of Gevo and Myriant Technologies. He is also an advisor to the Department of Energy’s Biological and Environmental Research program. Dr. Zhao is an Associate Editor of ACS Catalysis and an editor of ACS Synthetic Biology, Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, and Scientific Reports (Nature). His primary research interests are in the development and applications of synthetic biology tools to address society’s most daunting challenges in human health and energy, and in the fundamental aspects of enzyme catalysis, cell metabolism, and gene regulation.