Kristala L. J. Prather: Synthetic Biology and Metabolic Engineering

I. Introduction to Synthetic Biology and Metabolic Engineering
II. Teaching an Old Bacterium New Tricks

Part I: Introduction to Synthetic Biology and Metabolic Engineering

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Recorded: 2013
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Lecture Overview

In the first part of her lecture, Dr. Prather explains that synthetic biology involves applying engineering principles to biological systems to build “biological machines”. The key material in building these machines is synthetic DNA. Synthetic DNA can be added in different combinations to biological hosts, such as bacteria, turning them into chemical factories that can produce small molecules of choice.

In Part 2, Prather describes how her lab used design principles to engineer E. coli that produce glucaric acid from glucose.  Glucaric acid is not naturally produced in bacteria, so Prather and her colleagues “bioprospected” enzymes from other organisms and expressed them in E. coli to build the needed enzymatic pathway. Prather walks us through the many steps of optimizing the timing, localization and levels of enzyme expression to produce the greatest yield.


Speaker Bio

Kristala Jones Prather received her S.B. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley both in chemical engineering.  Upon graduation, Prather joined the Merck Research Labs for 4 years before returning to academia.  Prather is now an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and an investigator with the multi-university Synthetic Biology Engineering Reseach Center (SynBERC). Her lab designs and constructs novel synthetic pathways in microorganisms converting them into tiny factories for the production of small molecules.

Dr. Prather has received numerous awards both for her innovative research and for excellence in teaching.  Learn more about how Kris became a scientist at


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