Metabolic optogenetics as a new paradigm to study and engineer metabolism

Friday, December 11, 2020 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
Jose L. Avalos, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Andlinger Center  for Energy and the Environment

Princeton University, USA

Metabolic optogenetics as a new paradigm to study and engineer metabolism


Optogenetics uses light-responsive proteins to control biological processes. The unmatched spatiotemporal precision, high tunability, reversibility, and few side effects of light makes  optogenetics a powerful strategy to study and engineer complex biological systems. For these  reasons, optogenetics has already revolutionized disciplines such as neuroscience,  developmental biology, and cell signaling, and is poised to do the same with cellular metabolism. I will show several classes of transcriptional optogenetic circuits that we have developed to control metabolic pathwaysfor chemical production in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Escherichia  coli. Additionally, I will present optogenetic strategies to achieve post-translational regulation of  metabolism, including light-controlled synthetic metabolic organelles, and optical binders. One  of the most exciting prospects of metabolic optogenetics is combining optogenetic regulators with genetically encoded biosensor to achieve closed-loop controls of metabolism. I will present  the progress we have made towards this goal, including rapid optogenetic circuits, and new  biosensors that can function in combination with optogenetic controls in the same strain. I will  discuss the challenges that lay ahead and the opportunities to overcome them to realize the full  potential of metabolic optogenetics.


Dr. Avalos earned a B.E. in chemical engineering from Universidad Iberoamericana in  Mexico City and an MSc in biochemical research from Imperial College in London. He  then received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.  He conducted postdoctoral research at The Rockefeller University in membrane  biophysics, and at MIT, in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and the Whitehead  Institute for Biomedical Research in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology. He  has been a faculty member at Princeton since 2015, where he leads a research group  focused on the use of biotechnology to address challenges in renewable energy, sustainable manufacturing, the environment, and human health. He has received  several awards, including the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellowship, the Ruth L.  Kirschstein National Research Service Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship Award, the Pew scholarship, the NSF CAREER Award, and the Camille  Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award.